Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Truffled Mushroom and Asparagus Panzanella ( from On the Plate )

So every year for the past 5 years in the summer I have thrown a roof party. This involves a BBQ and a buffet dinner as well as copious amounts of fun and drink.

It is really a blast to do, and I have gone fancy, and I have gone simple. But whatever I do I try to do at least one thing that is new and different and no one has had me cook before. It's a chance to put out a new recipe that I think will be good and get the feedback from the people attending.

In the past few years I have become a big fan of the Panzanella salad. Panzanella for those of you who do not know is a traditional Italian Bread Salad. Made with day old bread and tomatoes some basil and good olive oil and some vinegar. Maybe some cheese is thrown in but it's a simple salad and quite an ingenious way to use up day old or slightly stale bread.

My first real encounter with the versatility of this salad came in the catering world about 10 years ago. I was working for a very forward thinking catering chef and he threw a ton of veggies and a savory dressing into the bread salad and called it a Market Panzanella. There were a variety of versions of this salad over the years that I saw at work or in cookbooks including one of my favorite versions, the Greek Panzanella. I make a mean Greek Panzanella, as my Mother and her friends will tell you, because she has used my recipe to many accolades from the Ladies of Mt Pleasant!  But without a doubt no matter how many versions of this salad I have made none of them were as popular as this version which I served at the BBQ party last year.

You see I really don't believe that there are that many new things under the sun, however, sometimes something comes along and reminds us in a new fresh manner why we liked something to begin with so much. So it is with recipes. Nowadays it's all in the twist. The fresh approach. Or the combination of something with something else. That's where this salad came from. Well that and necessity!

By necessity I mean that  I had planned on a certain number coming for dinner to the BBQ.  In and amongst the items I had chosen for the buffet to go with the BBQ food was a mushroom and asparagus salad. However, when more people decided to let me know that they were going to come I could not increase the amount of salad ingredients I had already purchased but I could figure out a way to stretch it! And that way was bread. You see that's why I love Panzanella for a big party. BREAD IS CHEAP. You can make a big bowl of it and as long as you have the bread dressed well and slightly moist from the dressing but still with some crunch, you got a taste sensation people will love. They forget what else is in there! Well not really but it just sort of all goes so well together.

In this case I had had a salad in mind that was rich and decadent. It was a mushroom and asparagus salad with Arugula and onion in a lemon truffle salad dressing. Simple, fresh and very deep and savory. Normally one would think of it was a Fall or Winter salad but in this case adding other elements made me feel like it could be a summer salad winner. The problem was I had purchased what I needed to make the salad for a certain number of guests. now I was facing twice as many coming. So I thought what if I tweaked this just enough to come up with a volume I needed but retained the excellent taste I wanted to offer. This idea worked.

The original salad relies on the Umami of the ingredients. Umami is the Japanese idea that a taste or profile of tastes make up another sense in terms of physically enjoying food. It's the seventh sense. There are lots of foods that have umami, but this salad was full of them. It's a recipe I have derived from a salad that Jean Georges made in Food and Wine magazine several years ago, and has been a favorite of mine ever since. But the idea of turning it into a panzanella was a little fun.

So armed with the original salad ingredients and some added cherry tomatoes for color, I assembled the Panazanella. It really beautiful. Green, earthy, red, purple and soft crusty white bread with tinges of yellow from the lemon zest. And it tasted really really good. It was gone in no time. A testament to it's goodness. I know that it made an impression because a food critic from a local rag mentioned it in his column about where and what he ate during that weekend. It was "perfect for summer"! Well I think it can actually be perfect almost every time of the year. But you be the judge of that. Give it a try and see if you don't just like it! Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's Truffled Mushroom and Asparagus Panzanella
(makes 10 to 12 portions as part of a buffet dinner)


1 large bunch fresh green asparagus
1 large bunch fresh white asparagus
4 tablespoon oilve oil
2 pounds baby bella mushrooms
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 package dried morel mushrooms
1/2 package baby Arugula ( more if you want to stretch the salad)
1 large sour dough country bread loaf cut or ripped for texture into 1 inch cubes including crust
About 5 to 6 cups
1 large red onion sliced into ribbons
1 small pint cherry tomatoes sliced into halves ( 1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 bunch scallions chopped ( 1/4 cup reserved for garnish)
1 cup sliced almonds
Olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar for final dressing
Sea salt to taste

For Dressing

1 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup truffle oil
2 tablespoon minced jarred garlic
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper


Trim asparagus so fiberous ends are gone.
Cut asparagus up into 2 inch ribbons
Place in microwave proof bowl and cook for 4 mins. on high.
Check to see if done but not overly soft, if they need more then cook more in 1 min increments till done
Place oil in a skillet and heat. When hot, add mushrooms and saute till done and liquid is absorbed. Add dried thyme and add the morels* ( see below) . Cook for about another 3 mins
Remove from pan and cool.
 *(Place Morels in hot water and let soften. When done drain and cut morels in half longwise 
and add as in above.)
Place Bread cubes on baking sheets in one layer. Heat oven to 325.
Place bread in oven and toast for 15 to 20 mins
remove and cool.
When ready to serve, place all ingredients into a large salad bowl.
Slowly add half the dressing mixing slowly with your clean hands.
Continue to add dressing till salad is nicely coated.
You should use all the dressing but do it to taste
If salad is still to dry add more olive oil and Balsamic vinegar till moist.
Garnish with the reserved scallions and cherry tomatoes and serve.

For dressing

In a blender add all ingredients except the 2 oils
With blender going add slowly both oils till incorporated and smooth.

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