Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
On one of those first mornings where I stepped outside first thing in my bare-feet, dewy grass and warm breezes awakening my senses after months of frosty dark mornings which begun by hugging a mug of chai by the window, dreaming of warmth and blossom, I was promptly greeted by the delivery man, bringing me my first box of lovely, organic veggies. I felt like it was my birthday, excitedly unwrapping the box to reveal the most gorgeous seasonal, organic vegetables. Purple potatoes, bright-red tomatoes, lambs-lettuce, sprouting broccoli, courgettes, sweetheart cabbage, spring onions and asparagus. As I tenderly unloaded my box, I began thinking about what I would be making for my lunch out of all of the fresh new produce. One thing came to mind and I was fixed on it. Fresh veg and a loaf of bread which needed eating means just one thing.. Panzanella!
Panzanella is basically a salad usually involving juicy tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs mixed up with chunks of stale bread and plenty of dressing, which soaks into the bread and creates a delicious filling salad. It’s no light, girly salad. It has oodles of oil and plenty substance via the bread, and can easily make up a meal in itself or be eaten as a side to a larger dinner spread. Even though this is no diet-salad, I’ve kept with my usual tricks for turning everything a little bit healthier by using gluten-free, protein rich chickpea bread in place of stale white bread, adding nutrient rich chickpeas, avocado and pumpkin seeds and filling it to the brim with the first of the seasons fresh salads. Are you drooling yet?
The recipe for the bread is from my dear friend Pippa’s blog over at The Intolerant Gourmet. Search for Chickpea bread and you shall find it, but don’t visit without checking out more of her beautiful recipes, all free from wheat, dairy, eggs, soya and yeast. She also has a new recipe book out this month which I can’t wait to get my hands on! I got my veg box from Abel and Cole, and thoroughly recommend them for supplying excellent quality organic produce to your door. It really makes a difference to me having a weeks worth of seasonal veggies delivered to me, so that I am forced to get creative and use what I have! As we’re just about entering the hungry gap, not everything you see here is local and seasonal, but the majority is. Feel free to use what salad-ingredients you have to hand and as long as you include some nice juicy tomatoes and tasty green leaves, you can’t go far wrong!
Lastly, when it comes to salad veggies, organic is best, as we are eating them in their raw state and they’re more likely to have absorbed nasty pesticides or have been pre-washed in chemicals. Check out the ‘dirty-dozen and the clean fifteen list’ to see what produce has the highest chemical residue and which have the least. I try to use this guide to choose what I buy organic and what I buy conventional, as it can be expensive to buy completely organic. When you see what is at the top of the ‘dirty’ list, it is foods which often we eat the most of. So switching to organic (or even better, growing your own) is the way forward. Every small step counts.
So this is a celebratory dish to Spring. How wonderful of you to finally show your bright warm face and bring with you all of the beautiful new flowers, buds and shoots that I’ve been spotting everywhere! After a long (not so cold, but loooong) winter, I am always delighted to feel the warmth of your presence for the first days. Soup has it’s place over the cold dark days but come April, I’m all about the salad bowls again. So lets celebrate by getting fresh and funky in the kitchen and make Panzanella!
Celebrate Spring Panzanella
Serves 2 as a lunch dish or 4 as a side
Notes: This salad is equally delicious if made a day in advance, or made in a big batch and eaten over a couple of days. The flavours mingle and the bread gets softer, which is what a good Panzanella is all about. Also, if you prefer a crunchier salad with less soggy bread, you can toast the bread chunks in the oven before tossing them into the salad. The result is different but equally as delicious. And as I said before, use the salad ingredients as a guide and use what you have. I’m thinking that radishes would make an awesome addition to this, as would cucumbers and artichoke hearts.
2 cups packed fresh young salad leaves (pursulane, lambs lettuce, baby spinach, baby chard, spring lettuce, mizuna, pak-choi)
2 large juicy tomatoes
1/2 bulb fennel
2 spring onions
small bunch asparagus, tough stems removed
small bunch purple sprouting broccoli
handful fresh herbs (chives/parsley/mint/basil/wild garlic/hedge garlic)
1/2 can cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tspSea salt
2 thick slices of Chickpea bread (or any bread of your choice)
Toasted Pumpkin seeds
Edible flowers (violas/dandelion petals/rosemary blossoms/primrose)
Start by cutting the bread into cubes of about 2cm thick and set aside. Wash the salad leaves, carefully dry them and place in a large bowl. Chop the totatoes and finely slice the courgette, place in a large shallow dish and drizzle generously with the olive oil and balsamic and sprinkle with the salt. Toss the bread into the dish and leave to soak up the juices whilst you prepare the rest of the salad.
Place the broccoli into a pan (if using) and pour over boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes before carefully placing the asparagus on top, keeping the tips out of the water and only submerging the bottom of the stems. Cook for another 2 minutes only, before straining and covering with ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Finely shred the fennel and spring onions and add to the salad leaves along with the drained chickpeas. Remove the tomatoes, courgette and bread from the marinade and add to the salad. Chop the asparagus and sprouting broccoli and add to the mix. Divide between bowls, making sure that they have equal amounts of bread and salad ingredients.
Finely chop the herbs and mix with the reserved marinade. You should have about 1/4 cup. If not, add more olive oil and balsamic to taste. Whisk well and drizzle over the salads. Top off with slices of avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds and flowers