a year in food and life

Spring panzanella August 20, 2008

Filed under: salads — superspark @ 7:28 am

It turns out that just keeping our little Maddie clean, fed, and well rested is a full-time job. Our friends with toddlers laugh when we tell them how tired and busy we feel and say just wait. But for a couple of new parents, suddenly having a little someone who operates on her own schedule but is entirely dependent on us takes up more time than we could have imagined. So it was with a somewhat resigned spirit that we went to Trader Joe’s today and did something new- loaded up on prepared and frozen meals. Sigh.

There won’t be much cooking, chez Superspark, in the next couple of weeks after which we head off to NY for the month of September to visit various grandparents. In the meantime, however, there are a handful of recipes that are on backlog here at Superspark, just waiting to be written up. As I master one-handed hunting and pecking during nighttime feedings, I’ll be clearing out this stash and with any luck, will be back to cooking soon.

Spring panzanella

I literally can’t resist any recipe with “panzanella” in the title- the classic Italian bread salad is one of my favorite warm weather meals. If you have fresh, home-grown tomatoes on hand, you can’t beat the classic tomato-based panzanella. Unfortunately, our tomato plants were ravaged by some sort of insect this year and so I’ve had to move in other directions to get my panzanella fix.

Deb of Smitten Kitchen seems to share my love of all panzanellas and posted this recipe for a springtime version back in April. With white beans, asparagus, and leeks, it’s a nice alternative to the more traditional varieties. This version is a refreshing, beat-the-heat meal that is perfect for summer, even if it’s named after spring. If you can’t get terrific tomatoes, but can still find asparagus and leeks at your local supermarket, this spring panzanella is worth a shot. For a more decadent variation that prominently features heavy cream, check out another springtime panzanella I found on Well Fed last year.

Springtime panzanella (serves 6)


1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day-old bread, cubed (we used homemade bread from Jim Lahey’s famous recipe)
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Half a red onion, finely diced
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 large leeks
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound asparagus
1 19-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss to coat well. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

2. Mix the red onion with the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes before whisking in the remaining vinaigrette ingredients: olive oil and dijon. Set aside.

3. Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of root end. Rinse well under cold running water to wash away sand. Cover leeks with cold water in a 12-inch heavy skillet. Add salt and simmer leeks, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Without draining the cooking water (you will reuse it for the asparagus), transfer leeks to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then pat the leeks dry with paper towels. Break off tough ends of asparagus and cook it in the boiling water until crisp-tender, no more than 3 minutes if they’re pencil-thin, more if your asparagus is thicker. Transfer it to another bowl of ice water, drain and pat it dry.

5. Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into 1-inch segments–the leeks will be especially slippery and prone to separating; hold firm and use a sharp knife! Place pieces in a large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Pour vinaigrette over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.


8 Responses to “Spring panzanella”

  1. Kalyn Says:

    Not sure how I missed the new baby, but congratulations! What a fun addition.

  2. shayne Says:

    What a beautiful baby and that photo is so perfact!

  3. Lisa Purwaningtyas Says:

    The baby made me….

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