So I went to have dinner with a few friends at one of my favorite restaurants in Birmingham. We went to Bottega Café, owned and operated by Frank Stitt. He is an amazing chef who specializes in using local southern produce and ingredients. I had a spring panzanella salad (Italian bread salad). I was blown away by how tasty it was and took mental notes to try recreating this later. The challenge is the make this dish without looking at the recipe. Well, the kicker is I had several cocktails by the time the panzanella actually arrived, so my palate was a little numb. I created it from memory – as cloudy as that may be.
Here’s how I did it:
I prepared this salad by using my grill only because I was making grilled chicken that night. You can certainly use your stove and oven – I’ll let you know how.
½ loaf Pana Bella bread – cut in large cubes
1 ½ cups carrots – large diced
½ cup green onion – thinly sliced, at an angle
1 ½ cups asparagus – cut into large chunks
½ cup cherry tomatoes – quartered
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley – very rough chop
¼ cup basil chiffonade (cut into thin strips)
pepper – freshly cracked
1 lemon juiced – fresh
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp thyme – dry
¼ tsp basil – dry
¼ tsp oregano – dry
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp pepper – freshly cracked
¼ cup olive oil
Preheat your grill. Place diced carrots on a sheet of tinfoil big enough to make a packet. Drizzle lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Do the same process with the asparagus. Place packets on grill. Grill for 8 minutes, shaking the packets often. In the meantime, place bread cubes on sheet pan or large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and salt & pepper. Toss to coat. Remove vegetables from grill, opening packets to reduce residual cooking. Place bread on grill, cook until brown, turning to keep from burning (chared is okay, totally black is not). Remove when toasted.
In a large bowl, add lemon juice, vinegar, thyme, basil, oregano, salt & pepper. Mix with whisk to combine. Drizzle in olive, whisking constantly. Add cooked carrots, asparagus, and bread chunks in bowl with dressing. Add green onions, cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs. Toss in dressing to coat.
TIP – using the oven
If using a stove, blanch the carrots in salted boiling water for 2 minutes then add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and drain; drop in ice bath (bowl of ice water) to stop cooking. Toast bread chunks in 350 degree oven on sheet pan. Bake for 15-20 min until brown and crisp.
Want the Real Thing?
Frank Stitt’s cookbook Bottega Favorita is available with a version of this recipe. It’s a great cookbook and actually a great read. The recipe published is not the “spring veggie” version I had at the café but has similar ingredients. Okay, okay…mine is not exactly like the recipe but it’s good.