Spring panzanella. For when you just can’t wait until midsummer for your favorite traditional Italian bread salad, try this rendition with spears of spring asparagus. You can thank us later.
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 by adding chicken. The choice is yours. So is the pleasure. Originally published May 29, 2017.–Angie Zoobkoff
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 45 M
- Serves 3 to 4
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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.
Recipe Testers Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The salad worked well and the techniques complemented each other.