Garden Fresh Italian Bread Salad

So although it is September, it is not *technically* Fall yet. As much as I am enjoying being able to have my paleo pumpkin spice and salted caramel coffee in the mornings (who am I kidding, I do that all year! #everyseasonispumpkinseason), I am just not ready to give up on Summer. And neither is my garden.

I mean just LOOK at these tomatoes … They are HUGE and perfectly sun-ripened.

Home-grown Beefsteak tomatoes

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did not actually grow these ones. My father-in-law did. My tomatoes are small, and I needed the big boys for this recipe; so while they’re not fresh from my garden, they are still home-grown goodies 🙂

Anyways, every Summer for as long as I can remember, my mom always made a big batch of Italian Bread Salad–a dish that is not a traditional “salad” at all. It is filled with big hunks of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, slivers of sweet onion, and tons of fragrant basil leaves all swimming in a tangy olive oil and vinegar mixture. You serve it with chunks of crusty, hard Italian bread that just soak up all the juices.

Garden fresh Italian bread salad

Garden fresh Italian bread salad….just like my mom always made. Isn’t it beautiful!! 🙂

MmMm…just thinking about it makes my mouth water! As a kid I wouldn’t touch it, as a teenager I would only dip the bread in the juice, but as an adult? Oh man, I can eat this all day (in fact, I ate it for breakfast and lunch the other day!)

This dish is super easy to make and takes practically no time at all, which means it’s perfect to whip up for a picnic. Or whenever your having company. Or when you just don’t feel like making have much time to prepare dinner. 🙂

My mom's handwritten Italian Bread Salad recipe

Here’s my mom’s handwritten recipe. As you can see it’s gotten a lot of use over the years!

All you need are the following:

  • a nice big bowl (I like a glass one so you can see how pretty it is, but you can use whatever)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • White vinegar
  • Garlic (finely minced)
  • Onions (sliced)
  • Fresh tomatoes (cut into hunks)
  • Fresh basil leaves (chopped or torn into pieces)
  • Salt & pepper
  • Italian bread (cubed and hardened)

If you look closely at the picture of my mom’s recipe, she is specific on the weight of tomatoes and onions. If you want to weigh them out, go right ahead. Personally, I never do (and I don’t recall her ever doing it either). She might have at one time, but after making it so often, she could probably just “eyeball” it.

The first thing you want to do is cut your loaf of bread into sizable hunks and then set it aside. Do NOT cover it or put it in a plastic bag; the bread needs to sit out in the open so that it gets hard and crusty. The longer you can let the bread harden, the better it will be. Seriously. If it is too soft, it will just turn into mush when you dip it into the juice – and a big ol’ blob of mush is just not appealing to anyone.

Chunks of Italian bread hardening while I mix up the Bread Salad.

Once that is done, the next step is to measure out 1.5 cups of some good quality EVOO. The best kinds have a fruity undertone and aren’t bitter when you taste them.

Pouring the olive oil for step 1 of the Italian Bread Salad recipe.

Look at that beautiful EVOO! I could just drink it up!

Then you want to measure 1/2 cup of white vinegar and mix that in with the EVOO.

Mix in the vinegar to make the base for the Italian Bread Salad.

Pouring the vinegar to make the base for this awesome dish!

After you have your liquid ingredients mixed, it’s time to add your chopped garlic. You want to make sure you mince it as finely as possible; you don’t want anyone biting into a big chunk of raw garlic. Ick!

Also, I love my pre-chopped, jarred garlic just as much as the next time-strapped home cook, but not for this recipe! It is definitely better to buy garlic cloves and mince them yourself as it gives a much fresher, tastier flavor.

Trust me. Just peel it and chop it; your tastebuds will thank you. 🙂

Minced garlic all ready to be added to the oil and vinegar.

I actually minced this even finer after I snapped the picture, so if yours looks like this: KEEP CHOPPING!

Once you have chopped that garlic as fine as you can get it, just toss it into the oil and vinegar mixture. Then add in your sliced onions. How thick you slice those is total preference. If you like big, crunchy onions, slice ’em thick. If you like them a little thinner, slice ’em thinner. Either way you can’t go wrong. I like to do a little of both when I make the Italian Bread Salad.

Sliced onions added to the Italian Bread Salad.

Next up is your basil. You can tear it up into pieces (which I find wayyyy too time consuming), or you can rough chop it. I personally like to chop it into pretty little curly strips!

I always loved when I would go to a restaurant or order a margherita pizza, and I would see the little squiggles of basil. It made me happy 🙂 But I never knew how to get mine like that until one day my husband (who happens to be an Executive Chef) let me in on the not so secret technique.

And now I will share it with you!

Step one: stack basil leaves on top of each other

Make a semi-thick stack of the fresh basil leaves before you chop them.

Step two: roll the stack up like a little cannoli….as tight as you can get it

Roll the stack of basil up tightly before you chop it.

Step three: chop and gently shake loose

Pretty basil curls!

That’s it, people. After he showed me, I felt enlightened!! (And, quite frankly, a little silly that I didn’t figure that out myself lol)

Anyways, go ahead and throw that beautiful basil into the bowl.

Now, if you are like me and you don’t prep all of your ingredients first, it’s time to cut up those garden fresh tomatoes. If you are more efficient, like my husband, just add in the tomatoes that you already had cut up and waiting. He likes to do his mise en place (aka cut up and measure everything out) beforehand, while I am a little more scattered and haphazard. His way may be more efficient (ok it’s totally more efficient), but old habits die hard.

All that’s left to do now is sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and toss it all together! Boom. You’re done. Easy, right?

Now comes the hard part….letting it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature before you dig in 😉

Italian Bread Salad made with garden fresh ingredients


What was your favorite part of the dish–the juicy garden tomatoes? The fresh basil? The crunchy onion? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Print Recipe
Garden Fresh Italian Bread Salad
This garden fresh Italian Bread Salad is the perfect end of Summer side dish---hunks of juicy, just-picked tomatoes, slices of crisp, sweet onion, and curls of fragrant basil all swimming in a tangy mix of olive oil, vinegar, and garlic.The only thing better than the flavor is the super quick and easy prep time!
Italian Bread Salad made with garden fresh ingredients
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Italian Bread Salad made with garden fresh ingredients
Recipe Notes

First, cut the loaf of bread into large chunks and set aside. The bread needs to be left out in the open air so that it gets a little hard and crusty. If the bread is too soft, it will turn to mush when dipped into the salad; it should be hard enough to suck up some juice and still be able to pick up chunks of tomato and onion.

Then, measure the liquid ingredients (EVOO and vinegar) and pour them into a large bowl.

Next, mince the cloves of garlic as finely as possible and add them to the EVOO/vinegar mix.

Peel and slice the onion into strips and add it to the bowl as well. *The thickness of the onion slices will depend on personal preference.*

Roughly chop or tear the fresh basil leaves before adding them and the cut up tomatoes to the Bread Salad mixture.

Sprinkle in salt and pepper.

Toss the whole salad together and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

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