I hate making salads. If I’m going to a dinner party, I’ll take ANY OTHER JOB, but please don’t make me bring the salad. I don’t know what it is. I guess I have a mental block when it comes to them. I find it hard to get past the basic tomato, cucumber, lettuce recipe. Sure, I can “be creative” and throw in some seasonal veggies or fruit, but honestly it just all seems so terribly boring. So when I have to make a salad, I look for inspiration in recipes. I have to.
Panzanellas are different. They’re heartier than your traditional salad, bolstered by stale bread or croutons. The bread soaks in the dressing and any juice from the veggies and what you get is a delicious, crunchy, flavorful, hearty, yet fresh side dish. Traditional panzanellas usually involve ripe summer tomatoes and cucumbers, heavy on the olive oil and vinegar. But what to do when there’s nary a tomato in sight? Switch it up and keep it seasonal.
This panzanella, from Smitten Kitchen, hinged upon leeks and asparagus, using white beans for bulk and texture. Since there was already asparagus on the menu that day, I planned on swapping it out for snap peas. Unfortunately, due to this year’s stubborn-as-a-mule winter, there were no snap peas to be had; snow peas it was! Luckily, they were perfect in this salad, adding just enough snap and sweet, green freshness to offset the silky beans and crunchy croutons.
Honestly I really liked how this salad turned out, but I think I would have loved it with the original asparagus. The red onion and zippy dressing brought the whole thing to life and next time I think I’ll make more, as I don’t feel like there was quite enough. I think the best part about it, though, is its infinite adaptability; as the seasons roll on, the ingredients can slowly rotate through, ever changing and never boring. This was a salad to get me out of my salad funk.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Serves 6
1/2 c olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 c day-old bread, crust removed, cubed
6 T grated Parmesan
1/2 a red onion, finely diced
2 1/2 T white wine vinegar
Juice from half a lemon
1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 t granulated sugar
4 lg leeks
1 lb snap peas or snow peas
1 19-oz can of white beans, rinsed and drained
- Heat oven to 400°F. Cover baking sheet with foil
- Toss the bread cubes with the garlic, 1/4 c. olive oil, salt and pepper
- Spread bread cubes on baking sheet and bake for ~10-15 min or until toasted on the outside, but still soft within. Cool
- Make the dressing by soaking the red onion in the vinegar and lemon juice for a few minutes, then whisking in 1/4 c. olive oil, dijon, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper
- Cut off dark green leaves of the leeks and trim roots. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of root end and rinse very well
- Cover leeks with cold water in a large heavy skillet. Salt the water and simmer leeks, uncovered, ~15 to 20 min or until tender
- Cut the leeks into 1″ segments and toss with the peas, beans and croutons
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper