Week 23, Meal 3: Big-ass-crouton salad

Back a couple of years ago Chef Brian gave his family and friends a cookbook for Christmas.

I never could nail the waffle recipe, and the list of panini suggestions have proved useful time and time again, but it was always one recipe, “panzanella bread salad” that stood out the most.

With all of my curiosity, I never actually made the meal. Luckily, Chef was smart enough to include a panzanella salad in one of our Fat Dude dishes, which has really opened up my eyes to the awesomeness of big-ass croutons.

Here’s Week 23, Meal 3: Grilled branzino over spring panzanella with lemon-tarragon vinaigrette.

The Recipe (Yield: 2 servings)

2 5-6 oz. portions Branzino filets, skin on
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking spray

Lemon-tarragon vinaigrette
1 leek, white and light green only, small diced
2 lemons juiced
1 T tarragon, finely chopped
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Spring Panzanella
1 cup peas, shucked, fresh or frozen
8 oz. asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, discard lower 1/3
2 oz. piece of sourdough baguette, medium to large dice
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup watercress, loosely packed

Easiest thing to do is knock the vinaigrette out of the way first. Mix 1 leek, the juice of 2 lemons and 1 T of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Right before plating, you’ll want to incorporate 1 T of tarragon, too.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While it’s preheating, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

At the cutting board, drop the medium dice on a 2 oz. piece of sourdough baguette (tip: 1 La Brea Bakery sourdough dinner roll is enough for 2 people on this one). Cut 8 oz. of asparagus into thirds and, if you’re crazy, shuck 1 cup of peas (I used frozen).

At this time, preheat your grill to high.

Next, in a medium bowl toss the diced baguette with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown but still a bit soft.

Back at the boiling water … if using fresh peas blanch for 3-5 minutes. If using frozen, blanch for 1-2 minutes. Blanch asparagus for 2-3 minutes. When finished cooking the vegetables cool in an ice bath.

Salt and pepper 2 5-6 oz. filets of branzino, with the skin still attached. Grill each fillet, skin side down, for approximately 2-3 minutes, with a 90-degree turn in the middle — for those sexy grill marks, you know.

Remove when cooked through and reserve.

In a bowl, toss together 1 cup of watercress, peas, asparagus and croutons, along with 1/2 of the vinaigrette (DON’T FORGET TO ADD THE TARRAGON FIRST!!!)

To plate: Put 1/2 of the panzanella down in the middle of the plate. Top with the grilled branzino. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the branzino and around the plate (I used a bowl) and serve immediately.

The leeks, tarragon and lemon keep the flavor of the already-light fish on the tip of your tongue with each bite. What I loved most though was the chunks of crispy bread which, by the time the dish had settled, had absorbed some of the lemon vinaigrette, creating these semi-crunchy bites of lemon and pepper.

A dish so tasty I made it a few days later for my dad, a definite fish fan, and he loved it just as much as I did.

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