Spring Panzanella Recipe

Spring panzanella. For when you just can’t wait until midsummer for your favorite Tuscan salad, try this rendition with spears of spring asparagus.

Spring Panzanella Recipe

Spring panzanella is essentially a springtime riff on the traditional Italian peasant dish made from stale bread. The combination of bread soaked in vinaigrette, fresh tomatoes, roasted peppers, asparagus, and Parmesan is so spectacular you’ll forget that you’re actually eating salad. It makes a lovely light lunch or side dish or can be made into a more substantial meal simply by adding chicken. The choice is yours. So is the pleasure.–Angie Zoobkoff

Spring Panzanella Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 45 M
  • Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped into bite-size chunks (about 18 ounces or 500 g)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved (optional)
  • 2 thick slices of stale country-style bread, torn into bite-size chunks
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (30 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon water (15 ml)
  • 1 orange bell pepper (about 7 ounces or 200 g)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced (about 3 1/2 ounces or 100 g)
  • 3 tablespoons nonpareil capers, rinsed and patted dry (26 g)
  • 1 to 2 large handfuls basil leaves, torn into pieces if desired
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (75 ml), plus extra for brushing
  • 20 slender asparagus spears, stalks trimmed
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, pared into large shavings (55 g)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • 1. In a sieve or fine-mesh strainer suspended over a bowl, combine the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt, and crush the tomatoes slightly with the back of a fork. Let the tomatoes rest in the strainer for about 15 minutes so the juices can drain into the bowl. You should have 2 to 4 tablespoons tomato juices.
  • 2. Meanwhile, grab a large serving bowl. If desired, rub the inside of the bowl with the cut side of the garlic. [Editor’s Note: It’s sorta tradition to do this. To be frank, we usually can’t detect the garlic, although it’s quite possible it lends a subtle underlying something to the finished dish. Suit yourself.] Add the bread and pour in the vinegar and water. Toss the bread until coated in the vinegar mixture.
  • 3. Hold the bell pepper with tongs over the flame of a stovetop gas burner or place it on a baking sheet under the broiler or place it on the grill, turning it occasionally, until charred all over, 5 to 15 minutes. (If using a broiler, go ahead and halve the pepper and place it flat on the baking sheet, cut side down.) Toss the pepper into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes to make the skin easier to peel. Rub the blackened skin off the pepper, cut it in half, remove the seeds, and chop the pepper into bite-size chunks the same size as the tomatoes.
  • 4. Add the onion, capers, basil, tomatoes and their juices, and roasted bell pepper to the bowl with the bread. Add the oil and season the salad with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine and then let stand for at least 15 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to mingle.
  • 5. While the panzanella is resting, heat a grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the asparagus with a little oil and cook, shaking the pan occasionally to turn the spears, until the asparagus is tender and blackened in places, 3 to 5 minutes. If desired, cut the asparagus into bite-size lengths.
  • 6. Divide the panzanella among shallow serving bowls and then top with the asparagus and the Parmesan shavings.

CHICKEN PANZANELLA VARIATION

  • To make chicken panzanella, substitute grilled chicken breasts in place of the asparagus and Parmesan in the above recipe. You can use any grilled, seared, roasted, or rotisserie chicken. Or you can place 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and flatten with a meat mallet or a rolling pin until about 5/8-inch (1.5-cm) thick. In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil with 2 teaspoons (4 g) dried oregano and 1 teaspoon (2 g) paprika in a large dish. Season with salt and pepper, add the chicken, and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and cook the chicken, turning once, until cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Slice and serve on top of the salad.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Michele F.

May 29, 2017

This spring panzanella recipe was perfect for lunch. All the vegetables made it feel like a healthy, light lunch while the bread and cheese indulged my need for something fun. I would definitely make this over and over. The next time I make this, I will probably try grilling the bread to see how it changes things up.

Angie Zoobkoff

May 29, 2017

Rave reviews from my guests for this spring panzanella! Lots of flavor, great color combination, an all-around excellent side dish for a spring dinner. My only issue with the recipe was the presentation. With everything else in the recipe cut into bite-size pieces, I found it a bit unwieldy to have the asparagus left whole on top. Next time, I'd probably cut them to bite-size pieces and just mix them into the rest of the panzanella. Same goes for the basil. I love basil but I would have preferred to have the leaves torn a bit so there weren't such gigantic pieces in the salad. I served it with some grilled chicken drumsticks and quick pickled cucumbers for a spring meal.

Chiyo Ueyama

May 29, 2017

Ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, and crisp asparagus—this panzanella is packed with wonderful in-season flavors! And the tangy salty bites of the capers and cheese are lovely additions. “Sturdy” seems to be the key word for some of the ingredients to keep the salad’s robust texture while it sits. I used meaty plum tomatoes (fewer seeds) and they rendered just enough juice to coat the salad and never became mushy. My ciabatta bread was very stale and dry (I almost couldn’t tear it by hand) and it did not get soggy, even when I had the leftover portion of panzanella the next day. My asparagus was about 5/8- to 1/2-inch in diameter at the base, and the spears withstood the high heat and stayed firm and crisp. I’m glad I also prepared the chicken (not instead of the asparagus but in addition to it) to make the meal more substantial for dinner. We felt that the panzanella itself would serve 3 people but 4 chicken breasts (which are quite big nowadays) can serve up to 6 people.

Jackie G.

May 29, 2017

I liked this spring panzanella enough to buy more bread the next day so that I could make the salad again. That’s high praise. I’m very fond of panzanella salads, and have made many variations, which have included other vegetables such as cucumbers and artichokes. Winter panzanellas at our house have even included cubes of roasted butternut squash. The addition of fresh asparagus, which is very much in season here, was a very pleasant surprise. I am a big fan of the tang the vinegar gives the bread. The combination of the vegetables in this salad with the bread is a win/win. This particular salad, with these vegetables, is very fresh, very light, and very easy to eat.

Penny Martin

May 29, 2017

I had just made sourdough bread a couple of days earlier and there was a piece left over which was getting hard. It was the perfect time for this salad. The bread had big airy holes and absorbed the flavors. I was so happy the bread didn't go to waste. You need ripe tomatoes to really make this flavorful. I enjoyed this salad! My other taster found the bread too soggy but I didn't.

Helena Pereira

May 29, 2017

A satisfying spring panzanella salad made with stale bread (country bread is the best option). The bread dissolves into a soft consistency, full of flavors. You just need to let the panzanella rest for a few minutes after being prepared. Top with asparagus and shavings of Parmesan or serve with slices of marinated chicken breast and you get a rich Italian salad for a complete meal. I tested this both with asparagus and the chicken: they are both good choices.

Robert Castagna

May 29, 2017

The salad worked well and the techniques complemented each other.

Comments

  1. This is the time of year for it, no, with tomatoes starting to ripen on the vine? I get dizzy just thinking about panzanella made with homegrown tomatoes! In Los Angeles I’m about 2 weeks away from it now.

    The asparagus is a really nice touch! I’m going to try that this year. I like some shaved fennel in there myself. Tiny or quartered bocconcini are very nice too. And I think it’s well worth the time to grill fresh bread to get a nice char on it before breaking it up.

    Have you let it marinate a good bit longer than 15 minutes? I think it just gets better and better with some rest time. But of course you’ve juiced your tomatoes so that must speed up the effect.

    Anyway, isn’t it wonderful to know summer and panzanella are on their way?! All you need is a margarita to go with!

    1. Love the shaved fennel, rainey. Exactly the little bit of bracing that this requires, no? Love grilling the bread. And I think the rest time is a very personal thing, rainey. I am a texture gal, so I need to make certain that the bread remains a little crunch at the edges or at least a little toothsomeness, so I err on the shorter side of resting, as the authors of this recipe suggest, but by all means, do what feels right to you! And yes, glorious that summer is here at last! Wishing you and yours much lovely summer eating.

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