Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Roasted Asparagus and Avocado Panzanella {Guest Post by Vintage Kitchen Notes}

I am so excited to welcome my dear friend Paula of Vintage Kitchen Notes to The Not So Cheesy Kitchen today. I have been admiring Paula's Blog for a very, very long time and am thrilled to welcome her today...Thank you so much, Paula.

Hey all! How are you today? This guest post is special, not only because it needs to be dairy-free, but because I´m in awe of bloggers and mothers who go that extra mile with food restrictions. Bea, of course, is one of them. There are not enough nice things to say about her, her care and dedication come through in every post.
Her two daughters have a rare condition of dairy intolerance, which you can read about here, and she not only adapted the household diet to avoid all dairy, but also spends time researching and trying out recipes like dairy-free flan or cherry cupcakes. Now 
that´s what I consider an awesome thing to do.

We met a while ago, through the Sunday Supper team, and she hosted an event which was all about food restrictions and allergies. You can read all about it here, with recipes included for almost every possible condition.

Most cultures have a way of using leftover bread, anything from french toast, pain perdu or torrejas, bread pudding, which is one of the traditional and most common desserts here, Argentina, where I live, to one of my favorite savory recipes with stale bread, the strata, a layered savory pudding.

In the salad section we find the super famous ceasar salad and panzanella, the italian way of using white bread, and also another summer favorite, juicy, ripe tomatoes. I roasted them for this recipe, to suck even more flavor out of them. But if you have amazing summer tomatoes use them fresh if you want.

Let me tell you something about cooking and baking without dairy, it´s not easy. Not at all. So I went the easy route and opted for a salad with seasonal vegetables, roasted and juicy, sharing the plate with wonderful white bread croutons, very rustic, made from a sourdough loaf I had in my freezer.

It has avocados and asparagus, and I think those two more than make up for the lack of cheese in this salad, don´t you? It turns out, Bea and her family are all very fond of them, so that makes this recipe more special. A bonus for me, like I knew what I was doing. Pure luck really. 

The ingredients in this salad could easily be turned into a tartine, that is a toasted slice of bread with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and avocados on top, drizzled with some olive oil.

But in salad form, you take advantage of a vinaigrette made with good sherry or red wine vinegar and the juices that result from the roasting of tomatoes. A lot of concentrated flavor.

When you have few seasonal ingredients, they have to be flavorful, pack some punch, otherwise it´s another boring salad, and that is not the idea at all here.
One of the crucial parts of the panzanella, are the bread croutons of course. My favorite ones are made from simple white bread, with crust, irregularly torn pieces of bread rather than perfect dice with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. The oven has to be fairly low, no more than 300ºF/150ºC, that way they dry before toasting.  You don´t want soggy croutons from the start, and though this salad has to be dressed at the last minute, the drying of the bread makes them more resilient to the liquids. 

You can keep croutons in a tin, if they have been properly dried in the oven, for a week or so. That way you can have an asparagus avocado panzanella in a moment´s notice. How´s that for a great impromptu lunch?


Makes 4 servings


For the croutons:
  • 2 cups white bread, torn into chunks
  • 2 or 3 Tbs olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
  • 1 bunch green asparagus, tough ends discarded
  • 1 pound tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 haas avocados
  • 3 Tbs sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Leftover juice from the tomatoes
  • Fresh basil or chives (optional)


For the croutons:
Preheat oven at 300ºF / 150ºC.

Drizzle olive oil on a baking tray. Spread bread on top and toss them around to coat with the oil. Don´t worry about dry spots.  Salt and pepper to taste, and bake for about 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the croutons.  Check them once or twice and toss them around the pan so they dry out as evenly as possible.

Keep in mind that you´ll have different sizes, so some parts will be more toasted than others. You need to be sure the large pieces are not soft inside, especially if you´re making extra croutons to keep in a tin for a few days.

For the salad:
Leave the oven at 300ºF.

Wash and dry asparagus and tomatoes. Cut the spears in two or leave them whole, that´s up to you. Cut the tomatoes in half each, and arrange them cut side up on a baking tray. Add the asparagus spears to the same pan.

Drizzle everything with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for half an hour. Check asparagus, they should be a bit shriveled and golden in some parts. Take them out and let cool.

Keep baking the tomato halves for about 30 more minutes or more, until they look shriveled and starting to dry out. The juices will be realeased by now. Take them out and let cool.

You can make the asparagus and tomatoes the day before, and keep refrigerated, covered with a few tablespoons of extra olive oil.

When you´re ready to assemble the salad, make the vinaigrette by mixing together both vinegars, olive oil, salt, pepper and juices from the tomatoes in a bowl or jar. Shake or stir well, taste, and adjust seasonings. You can also add some fresh basil or chives if using.

Peel and cut the avocados in thick slices or dice.

In a serving platter, start layering half of each ingredient: roasted tomatoes (some halves whole, some cut into bites) and asparagus, bread croutons and avocados. Drizzle with half the vinaigrette. Layer the rest of the ingredients and add the rest of the dressing.

Serve immediately.


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