Just easing back into the world of bread and cheese and all those other good things I’ve been missing. So in the spirit of my new found sense of moderation (don’t worry, it will only last a week or so) I decided to take a favourite salad, spring bread salad, and give it a bit of a makeover. Instead of it being mostly bread with some greens tossed in for colour I switched it up and reversed the ratios. Lighter, but still delicious.
Anytime I make a bread salad I always make way more croutons than the recipe calls for. This allows me to relax and allow everyone to “steal” them off the tray when they think that I am not looking. People love croutons, especially fresh, just out of the oven, croutons. For me, they have to be fresh. I cannot understand the concept of buying croutons in a bag. I know that a crouton is basically seasoned stale bread but those ones in the bag REALLY taste stale. Plus, croutons are so simple to make and can be customized for a starring or accompanying role. Think croutons tossed with parmesan cheese, or paprika or garlic butter or herbs.
Once I was making croutons to go with some cheese fondue and a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) was in the kitchen watching/helping and suddenly she got very quiet and wide-eyed when I began tossing the cubes of bread with the melted butter and olive oil, salt and pepper. She said, “So that is how you do it!” looking somewhat embarrassed. Turns out she had been slicing her bread into cubes and then taking a pastry brush and buttering and seasoning each individual cube of bread. Wow, if it was that much work I would probably buy croutons in a bag!
Apart from the croutons this salad is rounded out with some peppery arugula, earthy roasted asparagus, sweet pea shoots, bitter radicchio, nutty Parmesan and colourful chive flowers. I am not a huge fan of edible flowers because I find that generally they are added just to look pretty and not for flavour. Not so with the chive blossom. They look great and bring along a peppery/oniony bite. I have seen them available at the Farmer’s Market and at some gourmet food stores but they are the easiest things to grow. Chives need just a tiny patch of dirt, are relatively unfussy about how much sun they get (although they do best in full sun) and are a perennial so they just come back, all on their own, every year. I use lots of chives in my cooking and for a few, fleeting weeks in spring they provide these beautiful, edible flowers that soon find their way into all manner of salads, soups and even pasta dishes. And there is nothing greater than to pad out to your garden (or balcony, or windowsill as chives will easily grow in pots) and snip a few chives along with a blossom or two.
Arugula, Roasted Asparagus and Pea Shoot Salad with Croutons and Parmesan
When making the croutons I don’t slice off the crusts but just cube the bread. This makes for a more rustic presentation and taste but I prefer it that way. Feel free to remove the crusts if you wish.
For the croutons:
Generous 6 ounces of bread, french or sourdough, cut into cubes
4 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
For the salad:
1 lb asparagus
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
fine grain sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups pea shoots
4 cups arugula
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/2 head of radicchio, thinly sliced
2 ounces of Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grated
Chive blossoms to garnish (optional)
For the vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
4 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grape seed oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the cubes of bread in a bowl and drizzle with the melted butter and olive oil. Season well with the salt and pepper and add the pinch of cayenne. Toss with your hands or tongs well to coat the bread. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 12- 15 minutes until the bread cubes are golden brown, rotating the tray and moving the croutons around on the tray halfway through the baking time so that they toast evenly. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, snap off the woody bottom of the asparagus stalks and discard. Cut off the tips at an angle and then continue to cut the rest of the spears into diagonal pieces the same size as the tips. Toss the asparagus pieces with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the asparagus pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven, tossing occasionally until they start to brown about 15 to 20 minutes (depending on the size of the spears). Remove from the pan and set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and grape seed oil to make an emulsion. Taste for proper acidity levels and add more olive oil if the vinaigrette is too tart. Adjust seasonings.
To assemble the salad put the cooled asparagus, pea shoots, arugula, radicchio, sliced green onions and croutons in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add some of the vinaigrette. Toss to coat adding more vinaigrette as needed. Top with the shaved Parmesan cheese and the chive blossoms.