Monday, May 16, 2011

Spring Panzanella

I bring this recipe to you fresh from the farmer's market.  There is something so magical to me about the buzz of a farmers market: both the palpable sense of community between the farmers and local shoppers and the overwhelming feeling of care about where ones food comes from makes the trip enjoyable to say the least, every time.  On this particularly rainy Sunday, I set out recreate Smitten Kitchen's Spring Panzanella, and am extremely excited to report that every fresh ingredient in this wonderful mix of fresh vegetables and homemade parmesan-crusted croutons came directly from small local farms in the New York area. And oh can you tell the difference!

Feeling anxious about your first trip to the Farmers Market? Don't, with these  6 Simple Steps to Mastering the Farmers Market by The Daily Green.  Here's a quick summary of each:
1. Do Your Homework: know what's in season.
2. Come Prepared: reusable, easily transportable bags and cash are a must.
3. Arrive Early and Shop Around: may the first to arrive win! The best selection, that is. To know whats available before you begin to buy, "do a lap before we commit to a location" (thanks Cher.)
4. Talk to the Farmers: they're the experts, and more than happy to share their knowledge!
5. Store Your Purchases Properly: Transport your produce with care, and learn how they should be stored.
6.Stay Connected: there's no better way to foster a sense of community than getting to know your farmer personally. Find out your favorites' days, and if they have multiple locations.

Also, make sure to take advantage of the Daily Green's Get Local Info tool, where you can simply plug in your zip code for instant access to local green food and recycling resources near you.

Spring Panzanella (original recipe link here)

Panzanella comes from Italy. Typically a summer salad of chunked stale bread and tomatoes tossed with oil and vinegar, this spring version features asparagus, leeks, red onions, and white beans. The parmesan-crusted croutons are dangerously addicting, and compliment the fresh crisp vegetables wonderfully. I mostly stuck to the original recipe here- I used shallots instead of red onion, and red wine vinegar instead of champagne or white wine. If you are being calorie-concious, use minimal oil in the croutons and dressing.

For the croutons:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day-old bread, crust removed, cubed
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
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
For the salad:
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


Preheat oven to 400°F.
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.
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.
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.
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 three 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.
Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into one-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.

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