PARIS -- In the summertime, there's nothing better -- or easier -- than tearing up whatever stale bread I've got hanging around and tossing it into a big bowl along with tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh basil, and calling it dinner.
The simple Italian salad known as panzanella (for "pane," which means bread) has been one of my favorites since I was traveling back and forth to Florence to learn how to roll my r's -- and ravioli dough -- Tuscan-style, about a dozen years ago.
I first tasted panzanella one warm night in June, sitting on a friend's patio in Florence, still weary from the long plane ride from Dallas and the two-and-a-half-hour train from Rome. Now every time I make this, I'm immediately transported back to that place and time.
As with many other rustic Tuscan dishes, the idea behind this salad is economy -- it's what you make when you've got too many tomatoes on hand and stale bread from the day before.
But no matter what time of year it is, I've always got a leftover baguette or two hanging around, so one day I thought, "Why not winterize this summer salad using squash instead of tomatoes and rosemary in lieu of basil?"
And so with a butternut squash as my star and aromatic rosemary and crunchy pomegranate as supporting players, I created a cold-weather panzanella that's perfect any night of the week -- and one that'll work just as well for your lunch the next day, too.
I was so pleased with myself, I started thinking about desserts that use old bread, too: my mom's custardy bread pudding, and pain perdu, a French dessert (it's name means "lost bread") that's a whole lot like our French toast. But these required cooking or baking -- bread salads do not.
So in keeping with its Italian roots, I made a sweet bread salad using a rich lemony mascarpone cream; then I folded in toasted day-old croissants and fresh raspberries -- a splurge, I realize, this time of year, but you really don't need a lot to make an impact.
And you don't have to use raspberries. Any other berry would do. So would juicy, ripe pears or nectarines, or figs. Whatever fruit you can get your hands on that's pretty and fresh.
Which just goes to show you: There may be a time and a place for everything, but sometimes you've got to figure out how to get there on your own, even if the time doesn't seem right.
Bread salads, formerly a summertime-only staple in my kitchen, are now a year-round affair.
Butternut squash and pomegranate bread salad
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch pieces
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 of a baguette, torn into small pieces
1/2 of a pomegranate, seeds removed
A big handful of baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. In a bowl or directly on the cookie sheet, toss the butternut squash pieces with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook until the squash browns on the edges, about 20 minutes.
2. On another cookie sheet lined with foil, drizzle a little olive oil onto the torn baguette pieces, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and give this a good toss. Slide this into the oven when the butternut squash has cooked. These won't take long to toast up -- just about 10 minutes or so.
3. Assemble your salad: Put the butternut squash, crispy baguette pieces, pomegranate seeds, baby spinach, rosemary and fresh goat cheese (torn into small bits) in a big bowl. Toss with the honey-lemon vinaigrette (recipe on 3D) and serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 437 calories, 10 grams fat, 83 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 381 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 20 percent of calories from fat.