Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gluten-Free Panzanella for the Beginning of Spring

Gluten-Free Panzanella in a Meyer Lemon Maple Vinaigrette

 Ah, the beginning of Spring.  That turning point in the year when days start to gain again in length, when trees, plants, and animals start to rouse from their slumber, and the energy in the air around us starts to crackle with anticipation of warmer weather and the year ahead.  Of course, "warmer weather" is completely relative, as this past Winter here in Austin has consisted of desperately needed rain, and beyond a handful of truly cold days, temperatures that hovered in the 70's.  But no matter where you live or what the weather may be, you can still feel that palpable shift, like a rollercoaster just reaching the top of a hill, ready to descend.

Spring has sprung in my backyard.

Italian in origin, panzanella is a salad that traditionally consists of stale bread, onions, tomatoes, basil and a simple vinaigrette.  Understandably, bread salad is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when planning a gluten-free meal.  But with quality gluten-free breads being so much more accessible these days, it can become an impressive addition to any kitchen repertoire.  

Good altogether or as separate components, I hope you'll enjoy this simple and flavorful take on the rustic, Italian dish.

Panzanella with Brussels Sprouts & Golden Beets
Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free

3 c or 275 g cubed bread
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary sprigs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons salt

1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
2 c or 200 g golden beets
1 1/2 c or 125 g brussels sprouts
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3 c or 50 g torn beet greens 

Meyer Lemon & Maple Vinaigrette
Gluten-free & Vegan

1/4 c Meyer lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
up to 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1.  Begin by making the vinaigrette.  In a non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon juice, maple syrup, and thyme leaves.  Whisking briskly, begin to slowly drizzle in the olive oil.  Taste as you go, as less acidity in your lemon may require less oil and vice versa.  Set aside.
2.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3.  Slice bread into roughly 1-1 1/2" cubes.  It is best for the bread to be room temperature for this preparation, so if you keep your gluten-free bread frozen or refrigerated, plan ahead and set your bread on the counter ahead of time.
4.  In a large pan, begin to heat the 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat.  When it begins to warm, add half of your herbs and all the minced garlic and allow them infuse the oil for 1-2 minutes. 
5.  Add the bread cubes and remaining herbs to pan and coat with the infused oil.  Cook for 1-2 minutes. Salt to taste.
6.  Transfer seasoned bread cubes to a lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden and starting to crisp.
7.  While the bread is in the oven, prep and cook your vegetables.  Trim and peel the beets, cutting them into medium size matchsticks.  Slice away the tough bottom stem portion of the brussels sprouts and cut in half.  Thoroughly rinse the beet greens and tear into bite-sized pieces.
8.  Using the same pan as before, heat the canola oil over medium heat and add chopped garlic to infuse the oil.  Once golden and sizzling, remove garlic from oil and set aside to use as a garnish.
9.  Add beets and saute for 1-2 minutes, and then add brussels sprouts and repeat.  Add pepper flakes, lemon juice, and maple syrup to pan and stir vegetables to coat.  Especially during this step, you may see the vegetables starting to caramelize and brown or even blacken - this is not a bad thing.
10.  Remove from heat and stir the beet greens in.  They will wilt from the residual heat.
11.  You can either wait for the components to cool until room temperature or you can serve them while still warm (I prefer the latter).  Toss all ingredients in the dressing and finish with the fried garlic chips.
12.  Makes about 6 servings.

Meyer lemon and thyme are a beautiful match.

Great use for leftover bread.

Crisp but not crunchy.  If you're a picker/grazer, these will spoil your appetite.

LOVE the local, organic vegetables from Johnson's Backyard.  Love.

Panzanella is often associated with summer, but using vegetables that are in season you can make this dish at any time for any occasion.  My choice of ingredients really spoke to that season in between, that time of transition when it's neither Spring nor Winter fully and you get the best of both worlds.  Golden beets, still warming but bright and playful, the combination of Meyer lemon and maple syrup marrying floral sharpness with mellow sweetness, and the light crunch of garlic chips and croutons highlighting the gentle yielding of the sprouts and vegetables.

In Japan, today's date also marks Risshun, the official transition from Winter to Spring.  The day before is often celebrated as another New Year's Eve, with the intention of cleansing one's life of the past year's hardships and also driving away potential evil for the year to come. And with all the rapid changes in nature, it makes sense that we should follow suit and take this opportunity to begin again and reassert our goals for the New Year.

So with the excitement and anticipation that accompanies Spring and its discoveries, may you also find groundedness, to be able to embrace and appreciate the fleeting beauty of every moment.


  1. Looks like a beautiful, healthy salad! It actually got warm enough here yesterday that I could sit outside for a few minutes in the sun! Can't wait for warm summer weather!

  2. I'm with you, Iris! As much as I tend to stay indoors, I do enjoy having the option of going outside and enjoying the sun. :)

  3. What a great-sounding panzanella! I love brussels sprouts and beets, and the vinaigrette sounds lovely. I'm ready for spring!

    1. So am I, Lisa! Hopefully we'll have a nice, long Spring before we get all the Texas Summer heat. One can only hope!


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