Spring Panzanella Salad

Bread Salad. Just think about that for a second. Put the word “bread” in front of the word “salad” and you get people’s attention real quick.

Serves 4-6

Spring Panzanella Salad with Champagne vinaigrette

Just add some good grassy olive oil and chunks of summer tomato and they become very good listeners. If you’ve never tried Panzanella, you’re in for a treat. This classic Tuscan recipe is a much loved piatto povero (peasant dish). It consists of reutilizing dry stale bread to create a delicious—can’t-stop-eating-it—Italian bread salad.  As with many peasant dishes born of necessity, there seems to be endless variations on panzanella, but what isn’t up for debate is the kind of bread: “gutsy, country bread such as that of Tuscany or boule” is what’s required.
Start with crusty, hearty bread that’s already stale
—it’s better at absorbing olive oil and other juiciness, and keeps its shape longer.

Spring Panzanella Salad with Champagne vinaigrette

A good bread salad soaks up the juices from the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, and all the other seductive flavors that go into a really top-flight panzanella, and I love it! The tomatoes should be at their juicy and sweet and the bread bakery-day old, with a pleasingly soft crumb and chewy crust. My recipe not only calls for the best tomatoes and bread, but also relies on green, fruity, extra virgin olive oil, grilled asparagus, zesty Champagne vinegar, salty capers and sugar snap peas, for sweetness and crunch.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes (4 cups)
  • ½ cup fruit, extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon caper brine
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated on microplane
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ½ red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup Kalamata olives, cut into rings
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 bunch asparagus, about 12 stalks
  • 5-6 ounces sugar snap peas, cut in ½ lengthwise (see note)
  • 10 large basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into thin ribbons)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped (reserve some for garnish)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375℉ and preheat a sheet pan in it.
  2. Prepare the croutons: In a medium bowl, drizzle the bread with about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer the bread to a baking sheet. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 8 -9 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile prepare the grilled asparagus: Preheat the your grill to high. To trim the asparagus, snap the spears with tow hands; the tough part should break right off. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, toss with extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the asparagus on the grilling basket and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side or until just crisp-tender. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces. or Place the asparagus perpendicular to the grates of the grill.
  4. Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar, Dijon mustard, caper brine liquid, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow stream to create and emulsion.
  5. Assemble: In a serving bowl add the bread, grilled asparagus, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, onion, olives, capers, basil, chives and the vinaigrette. Toss to combine, garnish with reserved chives and set aside for 30 minutes.
Notes:

We love our vinaigrettes on the tart side, but if it’s to acidic for your taste add additional extra virgin olive oil. For grilling the asparagus we use a grill basket, which prevents the asparagus from falling through the grill grates. Its a great investment because you can cook grilled veggies and bread in it. You could roast the asparagus under the broiler, but keep a close eye on it. To prepare the sugar, snap off tough end with your fingers. Pull string along length of pod, then repeat to remove string from other side.

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