Panzanella is an Italian bread salad that's traditionally made in the Summer with day old bread, tomatoes, and basil. However, I love this salad and I make it year-round. So does Michael Chiarello, apparently, because he's got recipes for Spring and Winter panzanellas that incorporate seasonal ingredients.

Over the weekend I was invited to a picnic and decided it was the ideal time to experiment with his Spring version. It combines fresh peas, asparagus, basil, and green beans with croutons, radicchio, spinach, and ricotta cheese. This salad is spectacular!

It's full of interesting textures, from the crunch of the croutons to the crumble of the cheese. It's packed with tons of different flavors: earthy asparagus, aromatic basil, salty cheese. Spring panzanella is not only awesome at a picnic, but it's a welcome addition to a Memorial Day barbecue menu. Check out the method now.

Spring Panzanella

Spring Panzanella

Spring Panzanella Recipe 2011-05-25 12:28:43

Ingredients

2 bunches medium asparagus
1/2 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Panzanella Croutons, recipe follows
1 cups fresh or frozen English peas, boiled until tender and drained
1 cup thinly sliced green onion or spring onion
1/2 head radicchio, ribbon-cut, soaked, drained, and dried
2 cup whole baby spinach leaves or arugula
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, divided
Wedge ricotta salata cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Start with one of the asparagus bunches. Holding an asparagus spear in both hands, bend the spear until it breaks naturally at the point where the spear becomes tough. Discard the tough end. Repeat with the remaining asparagus. Cut off the tender tips and set aside. Slice the stalks in half.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus stalks and cook briefly, just until they lose their raw taste. Lift them out with a sieve or skimmer and let cool.
  4. Put the asparagus spears basil, 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.
  5. With the second bunch of asparagus, break off the tough edges and discard. Slice the stalks into 1-inch pieces. Place them on a large cookie sheet and add the first bunch's asparagus tips. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
  6. In a large bowl, combine the croutons, asparagus pieces, peas, green or spring onion, radicchio, and spinach. Add some of the asparagus puree and toss to coat well. Add more puree as needed to coat lightly and evenly.
  7. Add 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice and toss again. Crumble in the cheese and toss once more. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

Serves 10.


Panzanella Croutons:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large loaf Italian batard, ripped into small bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook until it foams. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the butter.
  3. Transfer the bread to a baking sheet. Immediately sprinkle with the cheese and toss again while warm to melt the cheese.
  4. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 cups.