Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad

Even though spring is technically here--it sure doesn't feel like it. We've been cooped up indoors for the last four months and yes we are going stir crazy. With my heart aching for warmth and sunshine and all things good about spring, like fresh strawberries, asparagus, blooming flowers and budding trees, I've had no choice but to force spring in to our lives, one way or another--like feasting on my favorite Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad. 

You know it's bad when the forecast calls for 50 degree weather and your heart skips a beat with excitement (like 50 degrees is something to get excited over, right?), just to have the day metamorphose into a blustery, bitter cold and rainy day. Depressing, my friends.

Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad

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 grated 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.