Food & Wine (April 2012)
The farmers market can be confounding this time of year, at least in our neck of the woods on the East Coast. It's sunny and springlike outside, but most of the produce at the market is still last fall's root vegetables and fruits. Spring -- so tantalizingly close, yet so far away!
That all started to change this week. Walking through the Dupont Circle farmers market yesterday, we spied the surest sign that spring has sprung: bunches of asparagus.
Young, tender little green stalks, bunched together like small bouquets.
We just had to make this Spring Panzanella.
But we also love the notion of a spring panzanella, with early spring veggies instead of late-summer tomatoes and basil.
This was one of those fun meals where we literally picked up everything -- asparagus, eggs, bread, radishes -- at the farmers market in the morning and ate it an hour later. (The only thing we didn't get at the market was the cheese. In anticipation of making this salad, we had looked for ricotta salata at the grocery store the previous day. No dice. So we had purchased some Pecorino Romano as a substitute. It's not a perfect substitute, but it works.)
The final result is pretty much a perfect spring salad. The slightly bitter greens (we used chicory), the spicy radishes, the salty cheese, the soft-cooked eggs, the crunchy toasted bread and the fantastic early-spring asparagus -- it's glorious.
We ate our lunch at a table in our backyard, loving every bite of this salad and toasting -- finally! -- the real arrival of spring.
Recipe by Mike Lata
Total time: 45 minutes
NOTES FROM ZACH AND CLAY OF THE BITTEN WORD:
- We had trouble finding ricotta salata, so we used pecorino romano instead. Queso fresco might be a good substitute, too.
- We used chicory for the greens, but any bitter greens will do. If you're not a fan of bitter greens, just substitute other spring greens.
4 large eggs
Four thin slices of peasant bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 pounds fat asparagus, peeled
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups packed young mustard greens or chicory
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 pound ricotta salata, thinly sliced and crumbled
1 watermelon radish or 2 large red radishes, very thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the eggs in a saucepan of water and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Simmer for 6 minutes. Drain the saucepan and fill it with cold water. Crack the eggs all over and let stand in the water for 1 minute. Peel and thickly slice the eggs; the yolks will be barely cooked but not runny.
Spread the bread pieces on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, until crisp.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the asparagus until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, cool and cut the asparagus in half lengthwise.
In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of oil with the vinegar; season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the asparagus, toasted bread, greens, onion and cheese. Drizzle with the dressing and toss. Garnish with the eggs and radish and serve.