Cherry Tomato Bread Salad with Basil

Serves/Makes: 6

6 slices (1/2-inch thick) ciabatta or other squat, chewy bread
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, PLUS
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
30 basil leaves
1 small strip lemon zest, about 2" long, white pith removed
4 cups small cherry tomatoes (or other bite size tomatoes, such as pear or grape) in assorted colors, halved
1 pound small fresh mozzarella balls (about 1" in diameter)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400. Tear the bread into 1" pieces, pile them on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 T of the oil. Sprinkle with salt, toss, spread in a single layer and bake, turning occasionally, until the bread cubes are golden and crunchy, 8-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add the basil leaves and lemon zest and blanch for 5 seconds. Drain.

Transfer the basil and zest to a blender land pulse a few times to chop the leaves. With the blender running, slowly add the remaining 1/3 cup oil through the lids fill hole and process for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the blender and continue to puree until smooth, 30-60 seconds.

In a large bowl, toss together the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and bread cubes. Let sit, tossing occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with the chile flakes; season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle some of the basil oil over the salad. Serve at once, passing the remaining basil oil at the table.

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