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Garlic-Crust Mozzarella with Pear Tomato Bread Salad*

Serves 6

1 head garlic, cleaned and peeled
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 C Wondra flour
1 small loaf day-old country-style Italian bread
1 bunch basil
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 pt pear tomatoes (mixed red and yellow preferred)
6 fillets of anchovies, chopped
1/4 C pitted green olives (picholine preferred)
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 1b fresh part-skim mozzarella, room temperature

Mix garlic, pepper, and thyme on a piece of foil about 12 inches square; fold foil to seal garlic in a packet. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, or until cloves are very soft and mushy. Transfer garlic to a small bowl and mash with the back of a spoon until smooth. Mix in flour to make a smooth paste. Keep at room temperature.

Remove crust from bread. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, making 2 to 3 C of bread cubes. Toast on a cookie sheet at 350° for 5 minutes. The bread should be crusty outside but not dried out inside.

Clean basil and remove leaves. Dry leaves on paper towels and set aside. To make basil oil, place basil stems in a small saucepot with the oil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and cool.

Clean and split pear tomatoes. Combine bread, tomatoes, basil leaves (chopped if large), anchovies, olives, and artichokes. Moisten with strained basil oil and season with pepper. Place on 6 warm salad plates.

Cut cheese into 6 even slices and coat 1 side with garlic-crust mixture. Cook cheese, crust side down, over medium high heat in a Teflon or nonstick pan for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip cheese and cook just long enough to warm slightly; remove from pan immediately. Place 1 piece of cheese on each salad plate. Garnish with basil leaves and serve. Drizzle with a little basil oil if desired.

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