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Asparagus Panzanella with Parmesan, White Beans and Herbs
Classic Italian panzanella is a salad that combines stale bread with ripe summer vegetables and an oil and vinegar dressing. With the bread as a sort of blank canvas, the dish lends itself to various ingredient combinations, including this mix of oven-toasted croutons with asparagus, white beans, herbs and lemon juice. We also use umami-rich Parmesan two ways. First, as grated cheese added to the bread midway through toasting to give the croutons crisp, lacy, golden-brown goodness. Then, shaved Parmesan is added just before serving, lending salty, savory intensity to contrast the sweet asparagus. So the beans are tasty throughout, we microwave them with seasonings; they absorb flavor as they cool. This salad is substantial enough to be a light main course, or it can be a side to roasted or grilled chicken.
pound asparagus, trimmed and halved on the diagonal
ounces country-style bread, torn into small bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)