James and the Giant Panzanella Salad

I saw Brave this afternoon, and I’m sure I’ll be considered a soulless heathen for this– but I was underwhelmed. It was cute and funny (all the little kids at the theater were giggling like crazy, which was adorable), but I felt like it was missing something. I wish the different conflicts in the movie– Merida/ Queen Helena, Merida/ Clans, Fergus/ Clans, Fergus/ Mor’ Du– could have been tied together a little better. I was hoping Merida would form friendships with her suitors so the “discovering love in their own time” bit would flow better. The resolution seemed a little too easy too; there was actually a point halfway through the movie where I thought they were going to wrap things up, but a last minute plot twist gave the movie another half hour or so.


Although I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Brave, I did get excited about the panzanella salad I made for a potluck dinner on Thursday. This recipe is super fast, easy and delicious, and I think I’ll be adding it to my list of favorites. This recipe reminded me of the magic little green things the old man gave to James in James and the Giant Peach. This would be a great way to convince picky kids to eat their veggies, especially if they’ve read the book for school recently. I don’t know about your kids, but I would have eaten anything that looked like the magic green beans that caused the massive peach to grow! (Although I don’t necessarily advocate telling your children that peas are magic: that could come back to haunt you later.)

I combined the Spring Panzanella recipes from 101 Cookbooks and (surprise surprise) Smitten Kitchen for this salad. I used the 101 Cookbooks recipe primarily (the pan juices form the sauce, so you don’t have to cook an extra element, which is great!), but incorporated the mustard and lemon juice elements from the Smitten Kitchen sauce since I had them on hand and they added some extra zestiness. I loved the garlic, thyme, onion, and olive oil combination for the croutons; I think it would be delicious spread over a split loaf for some really yummy garlic bread.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures– whoops! I’ll try to take some next time I make this salad and update the page later.

James and the Giant Peach Panzanella Salad

  • 1 loaf of bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (I used a Traditional French loaf, but you could use your favorite flavor and brand)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1/8 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tbs. fresh thyme
  • a couple pinches of salt
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut in segments
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 cups peas, fresh or frozen (I used frozen, but I think fresh might hold up better for next time)
  • 4 handfuls spinach
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes (I cut off the crust per Smitten Kitchen’s directions, but I’d recommend adding in some of the crust pieces for even more crispy texture) on a cookie sheet; drizzle with olive oil, garlic, thyme, and salt. Toss until the garlic, etc. are evenly distributed. Toast in oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crunchy.

Pour  a glug each of olive oil and water (I use glugs as a unit of measurement, as well as smidge/ smidgeon, touch, sprinkle, etc. In normal-people-lingo, a glug = a splash) into an unheated skillet. Add a couple pinches of salt (I would recommend salting and peppering liberally each time you add new ingredients; it really helps boost the flavors, and hopefully you won’t have to add lots of salt and pepper at the table.) Turn on heat and once the liquid is bubbling stir in asparagus, mustard, and lemon juice. Cover for 20-30 seconds, then add peas. Cover for 20-30 seconds, then add spinach. Stir and cook until spinach collapses.

Put croutons on a big platter, making sure to get the toasted, crispy garlic and onion bits. Pour asparagus, peas, and pan juices (which doubles as a sauce!!) over croutons and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Serves 6-8 people.