Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Spring Panzanella Salad

The EAT! Festival is in full swing in Newcastle and Gateshead at the moment, with markets and events happening everyday, all over the city. On Monday I went to an Eat-a-long film, we watched 'Julie and Julia' whilst being served the same food appearing in the film. We all sat at little tables and chairs in Gateshead Town Hall, checked table cloths and menus laid out and began to watch the film. Every so often the film would pause as the characters were about to tuck into something tasty and waiters would scurry around bringing us the same dish. It was a brilliant idea and a brilliant evening. We were served pepper and basil bruschetta, fresh bread and butter, little cups of lobster bisque, brie and grapes followed by beef bourguignon and raspberry and white chocolate truffle for pudding. We left incredibly full having thoroughly enjoyed the film...

Some salads were called for, to balance out huge French feasts on a Monday night... This is a lovely spring salad of bread, peas and asparagus. A traditional Italian panzanella is a stale bread salad made with squashed tomatoes and basil that soak into the the toasted bread. This is a green version that I found on the '101 Cookbooks' blog full of lots of spring greens, it will serve 2 or 3 people as a main dish or more as a side.

To start cut some day old bread into chunky cubes, I used a traditional wheaten Irish loaf which I love. Place the bread in a bowl and add a finely chopped shallot, a finely chopped clove of garlic, the leaves from a few springs of thyme, a pinch of salt and a large glug of olive oil. Mix everything together and then turn the bread out onto a baking tray and bake in the oven at 170°C for 15 minutes or so, until golden and toasted.

In a cold frying pan pour a splash of olive oil, a large splash of water and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up high and when the water is bubbling furiously add about 8 spears of asparagus cut into segments, boil for about 20 seconds, then add 2 large handfuls of peas. Fresh or frozen, I used frozen as mine are still tiny pods on my pea plants. After a few seconds add 2 large handfuls of spinach and allow to cook until the spinach begins to wilt. There should still be a small amount of liquid left with the greens, this becomes a dressing for the whole salad.

Mix the greens with the toasted bread in a large bowl and add a handful of shredded basil and mix again. The bread is toasty and warm with garlic and thyme and the greens are tasty and perfumed with basil, all combined together it is a very fresh delicious spring salad.

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Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x