Bold claim: classic panzanella is my favourite salad ever. Juicy summer tomatoes, pungent vinaigrette, tons of fresh basil, heavy pinches of salt and the bread, oh man the bread. Little toasted cubes slightly softened by all the luscious tomato juice and that sharp dressing. Too good. I could eat an 8-serving bowl all by myself. It’s not just the flavour/texture aspects that really get me either…
The dish itself represents the kind of food that I love to make/eat and the philosophy behind it. The bread is cubed and toasted up because it’s leftover from yesterday and I am so not about throwing away something that requires such skill to craft. There’s too many tomatoes and heaps of herbs in the garden that need to be ate because of all the hard, dirty work that was put into their raising. We have shallots, cold pressed virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in the pantry always because we’re just cool like that… I’m thoroughly convinced that this is a lifestyle thing. Once you’re there, it’s a taste revelation wrapped up in easy rusticism. I wish you could all just come over, rummage in the garden, make it with me in a sunny kitchen, drink some crisp rosé, laugh, catch up and eat outside on a big blanket in the cool grass before the day turns to night. That is some certified, undeniably good living.
But it’s March! I can’t even talk about tomatoes (although our seedlings are coming along nicely) or eating outside yet. Despite the crazy summer-in-spring temperatures we’re having (twenties!), there’s limited local produce available. So I took the aspects of panzanella that I loved and applied them to what I can work with now. The softening of croutons from vinaigrette and vegetal juiciness is the big “whoa” in this salad, which is easy enough to achieve with the help of some extra vinaigrette. I roasted leeks, apples, fennel and radishes to add substance. Chives, sunflower sprouts, shallots, and parsley fill out the rest. The sprouts addition was out of a sheer need for green stuff. My local grocer is now selling amazingly fresh, still potted sprouts. The tangled little shoots and confetti of herbs on a heap of heavy, winter vegetables is perfect. Winter and spring. Transitional side dish extraordinaire. Lots going on, but it all works out in the end.
roasted vegetable panzanella for early spring
notes: Use whatever sprouts/shoots you have access to/preference for. After tossing all of the ingredients together, I would allow the salad to sit for 15 minutes so that the flavours marry and the croutons can soften up a tiny bit.
1 large leek, white and light green part only
1 small fennel bulb
8-10 radishes, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 large apple, cored and diced
2 cups bread cubes (3-4 slices of bread)
1/4 cup-ish grapeseed oil, divided
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
large handful of sprouts (sunflower sprouts and pea shoots are my favourites)
10 blades of chives, minced
5 sprigs of parsley, chopped fine
salt and pepper
1 small shallot, minced
2 tsp grainy mustard
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey, agave etc)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line one baking sheet with parchment and set aside along with a ceramic/glass baking dish.
Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Clean thoroughly, removing any grit in between the layers. Slice halves on the diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces. Place in a large bowl.
Trim tops from the fennel bulb (save these for stock). Cut bulb in half from the cut side down through to the base. Remove core and tough outer layer. Cut halves into lengthwise slices. Place in the same bowl as the leeks. Toss these vegetables with half of the thyme leaves, half of the grapeseed oil (2 tbsp), salt and pepper. Dump vegetables into ceramic/glass baking dish. Set aside.
In the same bowl, toss diced apples and radishes with remaining thyme, 1 tbsp of the oil, salt and pepper. Dump these onto the parchment lined baking sheet.
Place all vegetables into the oven on the same shelf and roast. The leeks/fennel will require a mid-way flipping to achieve even browning. The apples/radishes will take about 15 minutes, while the leeks/fennel will take 20-25 minutes. When vegetables are softened and coloured a bit, remove them from the oven and allow to cool.
Line another baking sheet with parchment. Toss the bread cubes with the remaining oil, salt and pepper. Dump onto the baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove and set aside.
Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, whisk together the shallots, vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add the oil slowly, whisking quickly to combine the dressing. Set aside.
Combine the cooled roasted vegetables, dressing, chopped chives, parsley and half of the sprouts in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Garnish finished plate with remaining sprouts. Serve.