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Don't wait for tomatoes — use the basic idea of panzanella to inspire other salad creations, too. (Photo credit: Amy Zavatto)

Tomato time is coming — but it’s not here yet.

Still, you can take a little inspiration from one of Italy’s most beloved ways to use up a glut of pomodori and bread on the verge: Panzanella salad.

Long stalks of wild spring asparagus make a dramatic appearance on the plate when left long. (Photo credit: Amy Zavatto)

The impetus for this came from an inventive spring salad by recipe developer Molly Baz — as well as the desire to do something with all the gorgeous goodies at Shelter Island’s amazing Sylvester Manor Farm, notably: their ginormous, frondy, cheerful spring asparagus, creamy-textured Japanese white turnips and Calverton-based 1610 Sourdough.

Currently, Sylvester Manor is offering two thoroughly unique asparagus, either of which are great for this: the saturated hue of their Purple Passion variety, and a second type which is an heirloom variety, the green and statuesque Mary Washington.

But while Baz breaks up her asparagus into bits, we wanted to highlight the beautiful nature of the Mary Washington and Purple Passion front and center, blanching a mix of them until just tender-crisp and leaving them long so they’re the star of your platter. We also want to eat the beautiful Japanese white turnips on stands now in any way we possibly can. You might feel some urge to put flame to them, but it’s not at all necessary: Simply raw, their creamy, gently sweet nature is a really nice bite alongside the tangy bread, bright herbs and snappy asparagus.

This is a great salad or side dish for a crowd, but it’s ample enough to be a light-night main, too. Grab a bottle of Saltbird Cellars sauvignon blanc and let the salad season begin.

Heirloom asparagus and Japanese turnip panzanella salad

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 minutes
Serves 4 servings


  • 3 thick slices 1610 Sourdough Bread
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1 bunch wild asparagus, end trimmed
  • 4-5 leaves Lacinato kale, chiffonade
  • 1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large Japanese white turnip (or 3 small), sliced into matchsticks
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta salata, grated with a box grater
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, basil and tarragon, chiffonade


  • Heat a cast-iron pan over medium-high flame. Brush two thick slices of sourdough with olive oil and sear until browned. Place on a plate and sprinkle with Parmigiana-Reggiano while the bread is still hot. Set aside.
  • If using extra long, wild asparagus, trim down until each stalk is about 10-12 inches long. Save the rest of the stalks for another use. In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanche the asparagus for 3 minutes. Using tongs, immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water.
  • Roll the kale to break down their fibrous leaves, and then slice very thinly. Toss with olive oil, salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • To assemble the salad, break apart two of the bread slices with your hands into 1 to 2-inch chunks. Sprinkle evenly on an oval-shaped platter. Sprinkle the kale on top of that. For the next layer, lay the asparagus so that it covers the kale and toasted bread. Sprinkle with the Japanese turnips and herb mix. Drizzle a healthy bit of good olive oil over it, top with ricotta salata and torn bits of the remaining bread.