All-Season Bread Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Peppers & Arugula

      All-Season Bread Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Peppers, & Arugula
      Serves 4 to 6
      This is a main-dish salad filling enough to stand on its own or pair with roasted chicken or grilled meat. Sweet, juicy roasted red peppers fill in for tomatoes in this flexible hybrid of Tuscan bread salad and Lebanese Fattoush. Feel free to adapt and alter ingredients to suit. Sugar snap peas and/or radishes are a terrific alternative or addition to the shaved fennel (as are the pickled onions from last month's column). Seared shrimp or strips of seared skirt steak or strip steak may be substituted for the chickpeas. Or swap out the feta for oil-packed, canned tunaeither Italian or our local Albacore.
      Any style of hearty bread or baguette will work here. I particularly like Tabor Bread's hard-wheat boules and batards and the "country" brown or blond loaves from Ken's Artisan Bakery. The pugliese from Pearl Bakery (also sold at Trader Joe's) is well suited to the salad as well. If the bread is particularly hard and stale, toss well with a splash or two of water; squeeze out any excess moisture before toasting.
      While fresh-cooked chickpeas are preferable, canned chickpeas will work. Rinse and drain them well. For added flavor, you can saute them briefly with a splash of olive oil. White balsamic vinegar is a lighter, brighter option to more traditional balsamic vinegar. With a mellower flavor, it works well in all manner of vinaigrettes.

      • 4-5 cups lightly packed cubed bread (see note)
      • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
      • Salt and pepper
      • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
      • 2 garlic cloves, minced
      • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
      • 1 cup roasted peppers, chopped (see note)
      • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas (see note)
      • 1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, and slivered crosswise
      • 6 ounces feta, crumbled
      • 1/4 cup minced Mama Lil's or Peppadew marinated peppers
      • 4 cups baby arugula

      1. Combine bread and 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is lightly browned and crisp, 8 to 15 minutes (depending on type of bread). Off heat, stir in thyme and garlic.

      2. In small bowl, whisk together remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. In large serving bowl, combine peppers, chickpeas, fennel, feta, and peppers. Toss with dressing, then gently fold in bread and arugula; serve immediately.