tuscan kale salad with pecorino
Were I not so bleary-eyed yesterday, I might be able to express my glee about this salad. But I slept poorly, woke up early, and skipped my morning coffee and sat at my desk all day without so much as a drop of caffeine. This morning treated me to a migraine and I decided to work from home where I can be in a dark and quiet room. But this salad is a revelation (it’s basically a kale Caesar salad if you think about it), and it’s going to be on regular rotation this winter. I’ve already made it three times in the span of ten days. I would have made more, but I ran out of lacinato kale. Not to worry, more is coming this week and I plan on making loads more of this come Thursday night for our book club dinner, which I’m hosting this time. But as for you, you must make it as soon as you possibly can. It’s not at all time-consuming and you’ll be amazed that you might start craving a salad this time of year. I can’t implore you enough – go now!
Right around this time of year, I face the perennial problem of how to eat more greens while most everything I see at the farmers’ market is brown. I think because it’s been so bitterly cold outside (six degrees out yesterday morning!) I’m turned off by traditional salads with crunchy lettuce and the usual out-of-season salad accouterments – the last thing I want on my place something cold. I want greens that’s chewy, almost meaty, with a strong, nutty bite and a toothsome quality. Give me something I can sink my teeth into!
This salad is my winter antidote. Raw, chewy, leafy kale on my plate with a hearty dressing and homemade breadcrumbs. One of my friends was incredulous, “You don’t even blanche the kale?” after I told her that I found my favorite winter salad and wanted her to make it as soon as possible. I explained to her that unlike regular kale, which doesn’t taste good raw, lacinato or Tuscan kale is a slightly different cousin and I think raw is the way to go with it. Especially in this salad.
I found the recipe for this after digging through a few of my cookbooks looking for a way to make something with lacinato kale. I’d gotten two bunches of it at the market – it looked sturdy and wintry-green. I found my answer in Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite” excellent book (also Heidi, who knows a good recipe when she sees one made it on her blog). Because I know Melissa, this might sound like a typical plug and I want to be clear here – it’s not. If I could shout this across the interwebs (and I guess it’s what I’m doing here now), I would say the following: every home cook would be better off with Melissa’s book in her (or his) kitchen repertoire. It’s food you want to cook in your home period. Dinner on a weeknight after a tough day at work; a leisurely Sunday supper with friends; a meal all for yourself when you eat alone. It celebrates the everyday glamour of food, namely, the quality in-season ingredients, wholesome eating without the label of a health-nut, and recipes designed for a home kitchen. And while the recipes are good, they are also well-written, something I find isn’t always the case in cookbooks.
Think of this salad as a wintry version of a Caesar salad, minus the anchovy. But the pungent garlic blended with the punch of the lemon juice and the kick of pecorino Romano make this salad a show-stopper. My first crack at this, I made the mistake of making just enough for two people and Andrew and I wound up fighting for seconds – we decided to split it. The second time around, I made enough to last us two days (it was great the following day) and had to use Parmiggiano Reggiano, after realizing that we had finished off our chunk of pecorino. Instead of just toasting the bread in a toaster, I toasted in my cast iron with a tiny bit of olive oil to flavor the browned, crispy bread – I then transferred the bread to a food processor and chopped it into rough breadcrumbs with some chunkier pieces. It acted like a great sponge in soaking up some of the dressing – something I was hoping it would do.
I think that armed with this salad and a handful of hearty soups, warm rice pudding and vegetable curry, I can survive the winter. I am, however, currently rethinking this whole “no caffeine” this week rule. It’s day two and I’m nursing a headache (and who’s to say it’s not a caffeine headache?). I might have to sneak in a small cup of coffee to test my theory.
Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Pecorino
Adapted from “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite” by Melissa Clark
You may be tempted here to use already made breadcrumbs instead of making your own, and this is where I implore you to just trust me and make them. It will make a huge huge difference in your salad. If you don’t have a food processor, just try to tear up really small pieces from your bread to make tiny pieces – they’re not quite breadcrumbs in the traditional sense of the word, but what you want here is a slightly crispy outside and a softer inside. When the dressing will get absorbed in there, it’ll be truly amazing!
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also known as black or lacinato kale)
1 thin slice country bread (part whole-wheat or rye is nice), or 1/4 cup homemade bread crumbs (coarse)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese, more for garnish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Trim bottom 2 inches off kale stems and discard, or put into your “stock bag”. Slice kale, including ribs, into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.
In a skillet, over medium heat, drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil and using a pastry brush, spread it around in a thin layer. Toast the bread until golden on both sides. Tear it into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until mixture forms coarse crumbs.
Using a mortar and pestle, or with the back of a knife, pound garlic into a paste, and transfer it to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to thoroughly coat all the kale ribbons (Because dressing will be thick you will need to do a lot of tossing to make sure it’s coating all the ribbons).
Allow the salad to sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with bread crumbs, additional cheese and a drizzle of oil.
Serves 2 to 4, but in our household, it’s most definitely 2.