Michael Chiarello's Spring Panzanella
I apologize for bombarding you with asparagus recipes, but I am still harvesting them daily, so I have to use them.
This should be my worst problem in life.
A traditional Tuscan panzanella salad is made in the summer, using beautiful ripe tomatoes and lovely stale bread.
It's my fave.
Here, Mr. Chiarello (who I love!) makes a spring version with lovely croutons and fresh asparagus and spring peas.
I have to say this was a major production.
I thought I would get this ready after work for a quick dinner, but it was very involved, so start it early if you can.
You can make the croutons ahead, and the asparagus pesto ahead, which I didn't do until 6 pm, so needless to say, dinner wasn't served till 7.
Michael says soaking the radicchio in an ice bath for 20 minutes takes out the bitterness and makes it crispy.
Ok, so I did that, but didn't really notice a difference.
I used 10 asparagus spears from my garden and followed the recipe to the letter.
Spring Panzanella Salad (adapted from Michael Chiarello): serves 4
1 pound asparagus
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh or frozen English peas, boiled until tender and drained
handful thinly sliced green onion or spring onion
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 head radicchio, ribbon-cut, soaked, drained, and dried
1 cup arugula
1/2 wedge ricotta salata cheese or feta
First start by soaking the radicchio (totally up to you).
Slice into ribbons and soak in a bowl of ice water for 20 minutes.
Make the croutons:
Cut up some good bread (rustic loaf) into cubes. Heat 2 tbsp of salted butter in a nonstick skillet and toast the bread cubes turning them on all sides until nice and crispy. I sprinkled mine with garlic powder, for extra flavor.
Remove the woodsy ends of the asparagus and cut off the tender tips and reserve.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus tips and cook briefly, about 2 minutes, just until they lose their raw taste. Lift them out with a sieve or skimmer and let cool.
Add the remaining portion (the stalks) of the asparagus spears and cook until tender enough to puree (mine took 4 minutes), then drain well.
Put the asparagus spears, basil, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. This is your pesto dressing.
In a large bowl, combine the croutons, asparagus tips, peas, and green or spring onion.
Add some of the asparagus puree and toss to coat well. Add more puree as needed to coat lightly and evenly. Add a squeeze of the lemon juice and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then make an even layer of the mixture on a platter.
In another bowl, combine the radicchio and arugula. Dress with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, then mound on top of the dressed croutons.
With a cheese plane or vegetable peeler, shave some ricotta salata over the top.
Whew, I'm tired.
But it was worth it.