You can tell that it’s Spring on the West Coast when you start to walk down your local farmer’s market and notice colors are much more vibrant than they were a month ago. With fresh reds, greens, and yellows bursting from strawberries, asparagus, and heirloom tomatoes, you can really feel like the season is here. That’s why were cooking up an equally vivid dish that mixes bold colors with bold tastes with a Spring Panzanella.
Panzanella is an Italian salad made with chunks of dry or toasted bread, basil, tomatoes, and other vegetables, and tossed or marinated in a vinaigrette. This recipe comes from SmittenKitchen and I gotta say, she really captured the essence of Spring in this dish. Mixing asparagus, leeks, white beans, and a lemon vinaigrette, this Spring Panzanella is a symphony of aroma.
There are three parts to this dish that need to be prepared. The croutons, the vinaigrette, and the salad. Roughly, this recipe takes 45-50 minutes to make, but done right, can be a coveted dish at your next Spring celebration.
For the croutons:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day old-bread, crust removed, cubed
6 tbs finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette :
Half a red onion, finely diced
2 to 2 1/2 tbs champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
For the salad:
4 large leeks
2 tsp salt
1 lb asparagus
1 19 oz can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups of cooked white beans
Preheat oven to 400 ºF.
Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Make sure to get a good coat on the entire mixture. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
Mix the red onion with the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes before whisking in the remaining vinaigrette ingredients (oil and dijon). Set aside.
Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of the root end. Rinse well under cold running water to wash away dirt. Cover leeks with cold water in a 12-inch heavy skillet. Add salt and simmer leeks, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Without draining the cooking water (use for asparagus), transfer leeks to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking, then pat the leeks dry with paper towels. Break off tough ends of asparagus and cook it in the boiling water until crisp-tender, no more than three minutes if they’re pencil-thin, more if they’re thicker. Transfer it to another bowl of ice water, drain and pat it dry.
Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into 1 inch segments — the leeks will be especially slippery and prone to separating — hold firm and use a sharp knife to cut properly. Place pieces in a large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Pour vinaigrette mixture over the vegetables and toss well. Season with salt, pepper, and garnish with parmesan.