Panzanella Primaverile

It's the last day of April, which can mean only one thing: it's time for this month's round of Cucina Conversations! Our theme this time around is insalate, or salads, which seems pretty appropriate at least here in Rome, where temperatures have suddenly skyrocketed and the weather is borderline Summer-y (!!!) With no further ado, here are the recipes from my fellow bloggers:

Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be preparing insalata di orzo, or a salad made with orzo pasta and a lemon vinaigrette; 

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet will be sharing her recipe for insalata di mare, or seafood salad;

Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made insalata di polpo con patate e olive nere, or octopus, potato, and green olive salad; 

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles opted for la cialledda, or a bread salad with tomatoes;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making insalata di primavera, a salad with Spring produce;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing insalata di valeriana, cipolle novelle, uova e acciughe, or salad made with onions, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs; 

So! My recipe for this month is a twist on the traditional panzanella, a Tuscan dish typically made with stale bread and tomatoes and dressed with oil and vinegar (red onion and basil also often find their way in to the mix). It is one of the many Italian recipes in which you see pane raffermo aka bread past its prime playing a starring role, a reminder that Italian cuisine has its history as a cucina povera, where people often didn't have much more than stale bread to eat and were forced to get creative (I'd say they succeeded, deliciously). 

Panzanella in its classic form is a decidedly summer dish; it's made with at-their-peak basil and tomatoes, is served room temperature, and requires no actual cooking (that last point is especially important for those of us living in Rome, where summer temperatures are boiling and a.c is scarce). Which got me thinking -- why should we have to wait for June to enjoy panzanella, a dish so good that it should be eaten more than one season a year? After all, bread, glorious food that it is, is in season all year round (or in my diet anyways, is in season on the daily) and with so many other vegetables available in the other three seasons, it seems only fair and just that we take panzanella to the next step, expand on the idea a little bit, make it an all-the-time, 12-months-running kind of dish.

Enter my recipe for the month,
 panzanella primaverile, or Springtime panzanella, a recipe that lets panzanella loose a little earlier than expected, using all the lovely produce that comes alive in the Spring, and in abundance. Here I've swapped the basil for springier mint, replaced the tomatoes with spears of brilliantly green ever-so-crunchy asparagus, added lots of sweet peas and spicy red crisp radishes, and left in the red onion for a little color and bite. While I was busy changing things up, I figured the same could go for the bread, too; while classic panzanella, requires the stale bread to be dipped in water and then squeezed dry to soften it, I chose instead to use fresh bread (controversial) toasted with lots of fragrant olive oil and garlic to give the dish some texture and a boost of flavor (think of these as giant croutons, basically). The result is a downright Spring-y dish packed with all sorts of colors, textures, and flavors -- what more could you ask for in a lunch?! -- tied together with a little olive oil and vinegar, the best and simplest of dressings. I loved loved loved this -- after photographing, I may or may not have eaten it straight out of the mixing bowl, with great enthusiasm -- and my head is spinning with possibilities for other variations. Stay tuned for panzanella autunnale (autumn panzanella!) and panzanella invernale (fall and winter panzanella, respectively). But first - make this one, please.

A couple of notes: As I mentioned above, panzanella is usually made with stale bread, which you could also use here, I think -- just decrease the toasting time in the oven by a few minutes. I used apple cider vinegar because it's all I had on hand -- my intention was to use red wine vinegar -- and it worked great, but I suspect you can use any vinegar you want here. I used peas but feel free to also use fava beans or use a mixture of peas and fava beans. You could substitute basil for the mint if you want, or leave out the herbs all together, and next time I make this I'm going to add a little lemon zest to the bread when it toasts, as I find it decidedly Spring-y. 


5 slices of crusty bread (I used a sourdough loaf)
2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 spears of asparagus
3/4 cup fresh shelled peas
5 small radishes
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh mint (optional)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Cut your bread in to cubes and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and set aside. In a small skillet over medium heat, heat your olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the garlic cloves are lightly browned and the air smells fragrant and olive oily, remove the cloves and discard them. Let the oil cool slightly and then poor it over the bread cubes. Toss with a slotted spoon until everything is lightly coated in garlicky oil, and then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp. 
Next, cut the tough ends off or your asparagus and discard. Cut the asparagus in to small pieces. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil, add a little salt, and toss in the asparagus. Let the asparagus cook for about 4 minutes, adding the peas at the third minute. Once the peas have cooked for that last minute, drain the peas and asparagus and if you're intent on preserving that nice green color, put them in to a bowl of cold water for a minute or two to cool them down.
Whisk together your dressing ingredients, adding a pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the bread, radishes, onions, mint if using, and asparagus and peas. Pour the dressing over and toss until everything is evenly coated.
Divide the panzanella up onto serving plates and sprinkle with fresh mint, if using. Dig in. Serves 3-4 (or 2 if you're me and my sister).


  1. Love this! I think panzanella is infinitely customizable. Beautiful and looks delicious!

  2. I love bread salads! Putting it with peas and asparagus is a great idea!