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 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
- 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
- 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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