Italian Panzanella (Bread Salad)

 Several years ago, my friend Cheri took a trip to Italy, which included a cooking class in Tuscany.  Her photographs of the trek were so beautiful, and the one that stood out to me was the villa where she cooked with a chef.    They made Panzanella salad.   I have been dying to try this salad ever since, but I've never gotten around to it until today.    I had no idea how to make it, I just went from Cheri's photo, and added vegetables I know my family will eat.  I’ve used zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, corn … experiment with summer vegetables you like.   This is what I came up with.   I served it with a cup of tomato soup on the side.   Everyone loved it -- five stars.

5 mild or sweet Italian sausages, grilled and cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal
1 pound loaf Italian bread(rosemary olive oil artisan bread is especially good)
4 Italian plum tomatos, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 small Italian zucchini squash, chopped into bit-sized cubes 
1 yellow squash. Chopped into cubes
1 bunch asparagus cut, stems the stalk into small pieces in the diagonal. 
1 ear corn

1/4 cup red onion, chopped fine
1 bunch (about 1/2 cup) fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (see note at the bottom)
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

For the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, sugar, mustard, and the balsamic vinegar. 

Add the vegetables to the dressing and let marinate for about 2 hours in the refrigerator. 

Grill the Italian Sausage and cut in the diagonal. (You can also remove the vegetables from the marinade and grill.  Make sure to reserve the marinade ti be used as the dressing. Grill or not grill — It’s good either way. 

While the sausage is grilling:
Cut the bread into one inch cubes. 
Scatter evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 350 oven.
Bake until lightly toasted, like a crouton.  It takes about 15 minutes.
Chop the basil into small pieces.
In a large salad bowl, add the bread, sausage, vegetables, basil, and thyme.
Toss to combine.  Let the salad sit in the refrigerator so the dressing is absorbed. 

Serves 4 to 6.

Tip:  You don't want to include the stems when you use fresh Thyme in a salad.   Pinch each stem between your thumb and forefinger running them down the stem to release the little leaves.

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