Okay obviously by cake last week intended to shoo winter away failed miserably. Because as I write this, I’m trapped in my apartment while Winter Storm Stella dumps 12-24 inches on the East. Oh wait actually buckets of sleet. The snow would have been much nicer.
So bizarre, right? We had days in January that averaged 70⁰F. And now it’s the coldest it’s been with 50 mph gusts and ice…in March. I mean the Minnesota in me loves it, but I wish it happened earlier in the season. You feel me?
In this confusing spring yet winter daze, we need something fresh that also doubles as comfort food. I’ve been craving this conflicting combination, and I’ve come to the consensus that panzanella is probs the perfect food. It’s like a salad loaded up with bread. It was one of the first salads I could eat without making that face, so I consider it the gateway salad. And as such, it will be the gateway salad to our days ahead of salads—fruit salad, pasta salad, spinach salad, corn salad—the food of summer.
And, it uses that transitional produce—alliums like leeks and shallots, potatoes, and peas (which if you can find fresh, I salute you. I had to stick with frozen for this one). My chives, by the way, have been green all winter on my deck which is kind of confusing. But they’re so thin like blades of grass, so it probably doesn’t count. Definitely purchased all of this from the store. Anyway, the panzanella is adapted from Laura over at The First Mess who just released an incredibly gorgeous cookbook which I highly recommend that you check out.
Looking for another panzanella? Check out this one that was paired with a couple wines for #WineWednesday!
In honor of this allium-rich panzanella (leeks, chives, shallots), I’m going to reference back to this epic “In Appreciation Post” where I do a deep-dive of allium defenses. Often very pungent, the choices made here mellow out a salad that could be extremely overpowering with onion-y-ness. How, you ask? Well this freezing rain is zapping my brain a bit as my furry blanket and Netflix calls out to me, so I’m going to copy the most relevant parts here. Enjoy! And get on this panzanella.
There are sulfur-based compounds in the cells of plants that belong to the allium family that evolved as a defense mechanism. Onions, garlic, and chives of all varieties. In layman’s terms, when you damage the cells of the plant, the sulfur compounds are released and lay siege at the attacker. Particularly in garlic, as we’ve touched on before, the sulfur compound Allyl methyl sulfide (AMS) is designed to permeate through your skin cells and irritate them. Direct contact. It can even cause your skin to blister with enough contact. And wicked bad breath as it moves through your blood and lungs.
Kind of makes you think twice about the good old vampire legend. Garlic was one of their weaknesses…hmm that seems like it would be a legit defense. Those alliums sure do know how to defend themselves!
But then we’ve got onions. They have a totally different war tactic. Rather than depending on hand-to-hand contact, they employ a different sulfurous compound that permeates through the air and launches itself at your nose and eyes. Hello teary eyes and runny nose!
What differentiates very similar sulfur components from being chained to the land like in garlic while those in onion get to frolic in the air? (I realize that is the very worst personification I have ever attributed to molecules. My thesis advisor would be cringing so hard RN) Well the AMS in garlic is actually a rather large molecule which makes it really unlikely (kind of impossible) that it could fly up among the tiny air molecules. The sulfur-based molecule found in onions, however, is relatively tiny and free to catapult all the way to your eye sockets. This has a medieval sounding torture term or possibly an independent horror film title called the “lachrymatory factor.”
Most onions have quite a lot of the pungent sulfurous compound that causes the lachrymatory factor. But shallots, on the other hand, have much less of this compound creating more of a mild onion flavor. That’s why so many salads and dressings use raw shallots rather than other onion varieties. However, it gets more complicated because in this case, we are heating these onions in order to create all of those wonderful Maillard reaction notes. And heat actually disarms alliums and cuts out those sulfur weapons.
Now you very perceptive readers are probably like, “But Kelsey you put chives in there too! Aren’t they members of the allium family?” Very good! Chives are alliums but have very low amounts of these sulfur compounds. They also have a separate sulfur molecule that smells and tastes more green like cabbage. Though this is very mild as well except in some chive varieties like Chinese chives.
Slightly less pungent alliums = winning. Bread salad anyone?
Kale Panzanella with Mini Potatoes, Shallots, and Leeks
Adapted from The First Mess
3-4 cups cubed stale bread
2 large shallots (mine were ginormous, so adjust accordingly…)
1 pound pee wee potatoes (or fingerling potatoes cut into ½ inch chunks), washed and patted dry
4-5 big stalks of raw kale (or 4-5 big handfuls roughly chopped kale pieces if using bagged kale)
1 cup cooked green peas
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped chives
3 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
⅓ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400⁰F. Arrange the oven racks so that one is on the upper third of the oven, and one is on the lower third.
- Arrange the bread cubes on a parchment-covered sheet pan. Drizzle with some olive oil (a couple tablespoons) and toss to coat. When the oven is preheated, bake the bread cubes for 12 minutes on the upper rack. Remove the oven and let cool briefly. Keep the oven on. When cool enough to handle, slide the parchment with the bread cubes off the sheet pan onto a cooling rack. Put another sheet of parchment on the sheet pan.
- Cut the bottom roots and dark green top off the leek. You can keep the dark green parts for soup, but discard the root. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and run under cold water. Make sure you run water in between the layers of the leek to catch any dirt. Pay dry and place both halves, flat side down, on one side of prepped sheet pan from step 2.
- Cut the shallots in half and remove the outer, papery layer. Cut the roots and tips off as well. If your shallots were large like mine, cut them into quarters. Place the shallots at the center of the sheet pan.
- Put the washed and dried potatoes on the other end of the sheet pan. Drizzle the whole pan with a couple more tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. Toss everything gently to coat.
- Slide the sheet pan onto the upper rack in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Right after placing the sheet pan in the oven, prep the kale. Wash and dry your pieces or stalks. Cut into manageable pieces if stalks, and take the time to cut out the thick center stems on all pieces. Arrange on a second sheet pan covered with parchment paper in a single layer. When the 15 minutes are up, slide the kale sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Continue to bake both sheet pans for another 5 minutes.
- When time is up remove the sheet pans from the oven and let cool. Check the doneness of the potatoes with a fork. Mine were plenty soft, but if your pieces were bigger, you may have to put back in the oven for a few minutes after removing the shallots and leeks (step 9).
- While waiting for the veggies to cool, make the dressing. Combine all ingredients in a blender or use an immersion blender to blend everything together until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasonings as desired (I added salt and pepper to taste).
- Cut the roasted shallots and leeks into ¼ inch pieces once cooled. Wash the radishes and pat dry. Thinly slice them.
- Combine the bread cubes, cut leeks, cut shallots, potatoes, kale, and peas together in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat (if you like less dressing, start with ¾ of the dressing and add more as desired). Top with the chives, cut radishes, and a few cracks of black pepper. Taste and add a sprinkle of salt to taste. Serve immediately.