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Suddenly it’s spring. Did it surprise you, too?The sun is noticeably present in the morning and evening. The blossoms are buzzing with bees. The grass is going crazy. With all the yard work, cleanup and outdoor doings, an easy, simple dinner is what I’m looking for. Found it.

Panzanella is an Italian tomato-bread salad. Before you hang up on me, it’s better than it sounds. The bread absorbs the dressing, becoming lovely chewy bites, not a mushy, soggy mess. You’ll likely be picking out any leftover bread cubes.

This recipe was based on economy. Years ago bread was usually baked once a week. To refresh it, people would soak the loaf in water or oil and vinegar for a few minutes to moisten it, making it edible. Using what was in the garden, thrifty cooks repurposed the bread into a salad.

Bread is a costar in this salad so a firm loaf is required. Sourdough, ciabatta, French or Italian are best choices. Tomatoes are the other star. Fresh from the vine are what we dream about. But smaller grape or cherry fill the gap if you can’t step out your door and pluck tomatoes from your garden.

The thing about this recipe is that it is flexible. Save a trip to the store and use what you have on hand. Here I’ve focused on some spring vegetables, but you can substitute your favorites such as cucumber, artichokes, avocado, red peppers, green onion, arugula or olives. I’ve tossed the salad with roasted tomato vinaigrette. Feel free to substitute another oil and vinegar dressing. If mozzarella doesn’t suit you or it’s not in the fridge, try goat cheese, feta, Parmesan or buratta. Or omit the cheese. If you don’t have stale bread, no problem, just toast the fresh bread a few minutes longer.

With all the variations and options, the thing that doesn’t change is the deliciousness of this hearty salad.

Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.

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