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Twisted Side: Mushroom Panzanella

Panzanella is an Italian bread salad usually made with fresh tomatoes, basil, and day old bread. I enjoy this side in the summertime when the tomatoes are at their ripest. This recipe is a version of panzanella, that's made with wild mushrooms instead of tomatoes. Think a heavier salad with croutons meets classic stuffing. It's the perfect winter side for roast chicken, stuffed pork tenderloin or rack of lamb. To make mushroom panzanella,

Mushroom Panzanella
From Michael Chiarello

1/4 cup unsalted butter
12 cups crust-free cubed day-old bread (1/2-inch cubes)*
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery heart (on the diagonal), plus some chopped leaves
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced onion-soup style
2 ounces baby arugula or spinach leaves
Grated Parmesan

  1. For the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook until it foams.
  3. In a large bowl, pour the butter over the 12 cups cubed bread and toss to coat.
  4. Sprinkle with Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to season all of the bread.
  5. Transfer the bread to a baking sheet.
  6. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 15 minutes.
  7. Let cool. Croutons can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container.
  8. For the dressing: Melt the butter in a small skillet over moderately low heat.
  9. Add the yellow onion and saute until soft, about 15 minutes.
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Add the vinegar and stir with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the skillet.
  12. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add 1/2 cup of the olive oil, then the water.
  13. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  14. For the salad: Heat a large skillet over high heat.
  15. When hot, add 1/4 cup olive oil.
  16. When the oil begins to smoke, sprinkle in the mushrooms. Don't stir! Let them sizzle until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. If you toss them too soon, they will release their liquid and begin to steam. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss the mushrooms, reduce the heat to moderate, and continue to cook until well browned.
  17. Stir in the thyme and garlic and cook for about 1 minute to release their fragrance. Season with salt and pepper.
  18. In a large bowl, combine the croutons, the mushrooms, and the onion dressing. Toss well to coat.
  19. Add the celery, red onion, and arugula or spinach and toss again gently.
  20. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Grate fresh Parmesan on top and serve immediately.

Note: For the croutons: use a serrated knife to remove the crust from day-old bread, then switch to a chef's knife to cut the cubes because it doesn't tear the bread. Grate the parmesan finely so that it will stick to the bread better.

Serves 8-10.

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