Spring Vegetable Panzanella

by Hilary Gauntt on May 14, 2015

I was just served this at lunch with my book club, and the whole group immediately demanded the recipe (with me first in line!) Dana Saxten and her family have been in the restaurant business for many years, and any invitation to her house for a meal is eagerly accepted.  For a vegetable dish, it’s rich and filling; especially if you top each serving with a poached egg, which the original recipe called for. My first helping shared the plate with grilled salmon, which I thought was perfect. Can’t wait to make this my summer company side dish for 2015.  Credit goes to Sarah Jampel who published this on Food52.

For the panzanella:

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 baguette or 1 small loaf of ciabatta, cut into 1 inch cubes (between 3 and 4 cups)

1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste

1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut crosswise into very thin circles or half-moons, cleaned and dried

1 bunch asparagus (340 grams) woody ends snapped off and cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces

2 1/2 cups (380 grams) English peas, fresh or frozen and thawed

2 large handfuls (220 grams) snow peas, ends trimmed

1 splash (1 to 2 teaspoons) balsamic vinegar

Juice of half a lemon

Pepper, to taste

1 cup small, uneven cubes of Parmesan

Eggs, 1 or 2 per person, for poaching (optional)

For the pesto:

1 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

3 to 4 springs fresh thyme, stripped

2 Tbs. walnuts

1 or two cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Salt, to taste

You’ll start by preparing the bread. In a large pan, heat 3 Tbs. of olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the bread and 1 tsp. salt and stir so that all of the cubes are coated in oil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bread is golden brown and toasty. Transfer to your serving bowl and wipe out the large pan.

As the bread toasts, make the pesto. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the herbs, nuts, garlic, and about half of the olive oil. Process until everything in uniformly chopped and you’ve got a green paste. With the motor running, stream in the rest of the olive oil until your paste is thinner, smoother, and paler. Add the Parmesan and pulse until it is incorporated. Taste the pesto and adjust the salt as necessary (you many not need to add salt considering the salt content of the Parmesan.) If you are making the pesto ahead, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil in the large pan over medium-low heat. Add the leek and a fat pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the leek has started to break down and is a creamy mess, 5 to 7 minutes. Be careful not to cook the leek too fast – you want it to disintegrate slowly.

Once the leek is cooked, add the asparagus pieces and saute, stirring frequently, until bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Next, add the peas and stir until similarly vivid, 2 to 3 more minutes. Taste your vegetables to make sure they’re still peppy but not raw.

Dump the vegetables from the pan onto the toasty bread cubes. Add the snow peas and the pesto. (I added all of the pesto and found it to be the perfect amount; but add half, mix it all up and see where you are -that’s less risky.) Add the balsamic, lemon juice, pepper, and Parmesan and mix well so that all of the bread and all of the vegetables are shiny with pesto.

Give your panzanella some time to relax and loosen up. (If you’re doing the poached eggs now’s the time.)               Serves 4 to 6.






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