THE revival of handmade bread that has, happily, taken hold in many parts of the country means more leftover bread. Just the other day I received in the mail a small softcover book, Cooking With Artisan Bread, by the pioneering and excellent baker Gwenyth Bassetti, one of the founders of the Grand Central bakeries, in Seattle and Portland, and Jean Galton, who writes in her introduction, "Our hope is that this book will spare you the guilt of throwing away another wedge of slightly stale -- but still wonderful -- bread." In Italy the uses for stale bread go far beyond French toast and croutons, and some American chefs are so crazy about the Italian way with old bread that they have taken to increasing their bread orders just to let some go stale.
Their aim, often, is to make panzanella, a homey, refreshing salad that takes advantage of the late-summer bounty of ripe tomatoes and offers all the pleasures of dipping bread into the collected juices at the bottom of the salad bowl. Panzanella is the pizza of Tuscany -- a bread-and-tomato combination known round the world, perhaps because it's an easy one-dish meal. This one requires no cooking and none of the careful presentation that, say, salade niçoise does. (The origin of the lovely name, including its relation to pane, the word for bread, is disputed.) Like pizza, the original version is uncomplicated -- panzanella constants are bread, tomatoes, onions, oil and vinegar, and basil or parsley, with celery and cucumber as near-constants -- and best understood before a cook explores the myriad variations.
Tuscans aren't much good at making pasta, but they did invent the Renaissance. In frugal, blunt Tuscany it's beans or bread. "Tuscans, like Yankees," the Maine native Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who for twenty-five years has had a house in the heart of Tuscany, writes in her new "are thrifty in their approach to food (truth is, one of their favorite foods is leftovers), and they share a similar passion for beans: Other Italians call them mangiafagioli, bean-eaters."