Every morning, I wake up and I have to remind myself that it is not spring yet. I push past all of the cute spring clothes I’ve overeagerly purchased and reach for one of the sweaters and lined pants I swear I have worn ten hundred thousand times since September and I was tired of them then: It’s not spring yet. I read food blogs from people in Paris and San Francisco, fawning over the new strawberries and colorful produce at their farmers’ markets and go to ours and see the same cabbage and potatoes (though I’m crossing my fingers for ramps today) as before: It’s not spring yet. And I honestly don’t know why I would expect to be spring in the first week of April when it is never spring in New York during the first week of April but still, I have never been more impatient for the world to warm up around me.
But last weekend it was at least unfrozen enough to take little walk that landed us at the Balthazar Bakery where we split the most mildly sweet and adorably tiny pistachio doughnut ever and picked a small boule of their “sourish” (their description, not mine) white bread and proceeded to forget about it (shame, shame) until it staled. Suddenly, there on the subway platform a couple days later I started scheming about a spring panzanella that would make me feel better about how far off warm weather seems.
I busted out my reporter’s notebook and everything, listing things that might work: Green beans? (Nixed because they’re really summer produce.) Leeks? (Because I love them but how would they hold together?) Asparagus! (Because at least we have that around here.) Meyer lemon vinaigrette? (Like I could resist.) White beans! (I had a bit leftover from the cassoulet, and cannot let my Rancho Gordos go to waste!) And all of a sudden I was finally not driving Alex crazy while I griped over the indiginity of a late spring but totally excited to create my own in the kitchen.
One year ago: Artichoke, Cranberry Bean and Arugula Salad
I’m not going to lie: it is a little awkward to slice and cook leeks like this. But I love them, and I love them in this. If you’re eeked out by trying to slice the slippery guys into segments, you might swap them out with an extra pound of asparagus, green beans, or even lightly cooked carrots.
Serves about 4 as a main and 6 as a side
For the croutons:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day-old bread, crust removed, cubed
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
Half a red onion, finely diced
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
For the salad:
4 large leeks
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound asparagus
1 19-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss to coat well. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
Mix the red onion with the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes before whisking in the remaining vinaigrette ingredients: olive oil and dijon. Set aside.
Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of root end. Rinse well under cold running water to wash away sand. Cover leeks with cold water in a 12-inch heavy skillet. Add salt and simmer leeks, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Without draining the cooking water (you will reuse it for the asparagus), transfer leeks to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then pat the leeks dry with paper towels. Break off tough ends of asparagus and cook it in the boiling water until crisp-tender, no more than three minutes if they’re pencil-thin, more if your asparagus is thicker. Transfer it to another bowl of ice water, drain and pat it dry.
Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into one-inch segments–the leeks will be especially slippery and prone to separating; hold firm and use a sharp knife! Place pieces in a large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Pour vinaigrette over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.