When the first asparagus starts popping up in the farmer’s market, this is one of my go-to dishes to celebrate spring. I love the combination of fresh, crunchy green asparagus and fennel...and how could you go wrong with a warm pancetta dressing and anything topped with an egg?
If you haven't tried fennel pollen, I highly recommend it. Fennel pollen, harvested from fennel flowers before the plants go to see, is milder and more aromatic than fennel seed. One sprinkle transforms anything you put it on into something magical. You can find fennel pollen at some specialty food stores or buy it online.
Don’t stop at spring, make panzanella year-round! This recipe is versatile, just substitute the asparagus and fennel with your favorite seasonal produce—try it with the summer with fresh tomatoes and herbs, in the fall add roasted butternut squash and baby spinach, in the winter toss in ribbons of carrot, fennel and kale. The seasonal possibilities are endless!
Note: If you want to make this salad vegetarian, you can omit the pancetta and make the dressing with extra virgin olive oil instead of the rendered pancetta fat.
4 - 6
French or ciabatta bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 1/2 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
small shallot, minced
medium garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons
red wine vinegar
freshly grated lemon zest
asparagus (about 8 – 10 spears), thinly shaved lengthwise with a vegetable peeler
fresh fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
small head frisée, trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (about 2 cups)
4 - 6
1 1/2 teaspoons
teaspoons fennel pollen, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake, flipping halfway through cooking, until the edges of the bread start to turn golden brown, about 7 - 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
To make the dressing, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta from the pan, reserving the rendered pancetta fat, and drain the pancetta bits on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
Remove all but a ¼ cup of the rendered pancetta fat from the pan (if you don’t have enough rendered fat, you can supplement with extra virgin olive oil to equal a quarter cup). Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat, add shallots and cook until start to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest and Dijon mustard. Slowly whisk in the reserved pancetta dripping and shallot mixture until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Add the reserved toasted bread cubes, shaved asparagus, fennel and frisée, and toss to coat in the dressing. Let the salad sit for about 15 - 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.
While the salad is sitting, make the soft-boiled eggs. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over medium high heat. Gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 6 minutes (this will result in a set white and a just-set-but-still-runny yolk). Remove the eggs and place directly into a bowl of ice water to stop them from overcooking. Once the eggs are cool to the touch, gently peel them and set aside.
To serve, divide salad between 4 to 6 individual plates, depending on how many you are serving. Top each salad with a soft-boiled egg (I like to just break them in half as I top each salad) and some of the reserved pancetta bits. Finish each salad with a sprinkling of fennel pollen, if you are using it, and enjoy!