Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad

A traditional panzanella salad is made with bread and tomatoes and popular in the summer. Since it's not summer yet, and tomatoes are really not that good right now, I decided to mix things up and make a spring panzanella with asparagus (which is in season!), fresh yellow bell peppers, northern white beans, and a sweet, red onion vinaigrette. I promise, you will love this salad. And, it's husband approved! The best thing about this salad is the crunchy, cheesy, home made croutons...yum :)

1/2 cup red onion, finely diced 
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups day old bread, crust removed and cubed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1 bundle asparagus (about 1 pound)
1 (15 oz) can white beans, rinsed and drained well
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned

For the vinaigrette, mix all ingredients together and set aside. Let onions marinate for about 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheet with tin foil. Mix the bread cubes (*try using a good rustic bread for your croutons) with garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Add olive oil and toss well. Transfer bread to baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice until croutons are crisp and lightly colored. Set aside and cool completely.

Cut off tough ends of asparagus and cook in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Do not over cook. Transfer cooked asparagus to a bowl of ice water, drain and pat dry.

Cut asparagus and julienned bell pepper into 1 inch segments. Place in large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Just before serving, toss with vinaigrette. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.