Sunday, July 18, 2010

Asparagus Panzanella

Adapted from Chef Jen Irwin at Just a Taste restaurant in Ithaca, NY
Serves 4-6
Asparagus Panzanella
1 bunch asparagus
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
12 oz bocconcini fresh mozzarella, sliced into quarters *
2 oz parmesan, finely shaved into thin ribbons
For the croutons:
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 cups French bread (about 3/4 baguette) sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
First, prep and roast the asparagus:  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  To determine where to trim off the bottoms of the asparagus (The bottoms of the stems are tough and woody but the tops are tender), take one stem and holding the bottom of the stem in one hand and the middle in the other, bend the stem.  It will snap right at the point where tough turns to tender.  Line up the rest of the asparagus so their tips align, and slice off their bottom portions at the same point where the first one snapped.  Slice the asparagus on a slight diagonal into 2-inch slices.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Arrange the asparagus over a parchment-lined sheet tray.  Lightly drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Use your clean hands to toss the asparagus with the oil, to lightly and evenly coat them.  Sprinkle evenly with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Roast in the oven until the asparagus is tender and just beginning to turn light golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Reserve
Meanwhile, prep all the other ingredients:  Slice the onions, grate the parmesan and quarter the fresh mozzarella. 
Now, make the croutons:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, melted butter and olive oil.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Add the cubed bread to the vinaigrette and immediately toss it with your hands to coat.  Add the parmesan and toss again to coat the bread with the cheese.  Arrange the dressed bread cubes over a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown and crunchy, but still soft and tender on the inside, about 10-15 minutes. 
Assemble the salad:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the toasted croutons with the roasted asparagus, sliced red onion, fresh mozzarella and parmesan.  Toss together with a rubber spatula.  Serve warm.
* Bocconcini refers to the shape of the mozzarella.  You want to the small (grape-size) round balls of fresh mozzarella.