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Panzanella easy and adaptable

Dish (and gazpacho) offers great way to capitalize on fresh, local tomatoes

When local tomatoes are at their peak, as they are right now, my favorite dishes to make with them are gazpacho and panzanella, the latter being an Italian bread and tomato salad studded with crisp onion and cooling cucumber.

They are similar, the two dishes, in their ingredients and their prep (lots of chopping, no cooking), differing mostly in their final form: the Spanish soup being whizzed to a coarse or smooth puree, the Italian salad staying chunky. Maybe that’s why I can’t decide which I like better.

Lately, panzanella has been winning at my house. It’s so easy and so satisfying that I eat enough to make the entire meal. For nights when a bit more heft seems a good idea, some quickly grilled shrimp are the answer, as you’ll find here.

Another joy of panzanella is its flexibility. Cookbook author and chef Pino Luongo, in his 1988 book “A Tuscan in the Kitchen,” illustrates that with his recipe. He merely lists the ingredients, giving no amounts (which is true of most of the book). Luongo’s liberating approach underscores that panzanella is easily adaptable to your whim.

Panzanella with Shrimp

Recipes often call for “best quality” this or that ingredient, in a manner that can come off as bossy. Risking that, the olive oil and vinegar used here will make or break the salad. Also, the traditional dish calls for soaking the bread in broth then squeezing out the excess liquid. I prefer the bread with more body, so I skip that step.

1 pound garden fresh tomatoes, cored, roughly chopped in large pieces

1 English cucumber, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 day-old baguette, cubed in bite-size pieces (or 6 ounces of another rustic bread)

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled, deveined

Mix the tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a large bowl. Pour the olive oil and vinegar over them. Stir to combine; season with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir in the bread cubes. Set aside while you grill the shrimp. Stir occasionally so the bread can absorb liquid thrown off by the vegetables.

Thread the shrimp on skewers (if using wood, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before using); season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. (Brush shrimp with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking, if you like.) Grill over medium heat, turning once, until just cooked through, 4 minutes. Remove from skewers; toss with the panzanella salad.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 377 calories, 9 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 229 milligrams cholesterol, 38 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams protein, 1,008 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber.