As someone who has said things like “the world would be a better place if we could all stop pretending that kale tastes good” (on p. 67, in fact) and who is unwaveringly certain that the last thing the internet needs is another kale salad, I am not even sure what I’m doing here. Am I on the wrong blog? But I can’t help it. I had an unforgettable kale salad last weekend and seeing as my life (and undoubtedly various legal statues) does not allow me to move into Barbuto (believe me, I’m considering it as I type… would they notice? I’ve always wanted more windows…), I had to attempt to riff on it at home. And if I’m going to be making it at home, well, it seems rude to keep it from you. We have no cooking secrets here.
We did the Chef’s Table for my husband’s birthday on Saturday night and were this the kind of blog that covered restaurants, this paragraph would be all, omg it was so good, squee, vegetables! and each dish was better than the one before and they were so generous! and you would quickly realize why I don’t. Fortunately, I’m only interested in talking about the parts of great meals outside my kitchen that I can drag back into it, and that brings us to kale.
Yes, kale. Look, I came around on kale, I did! I realized that I didn’t dislike it so much as much as I was suspicious of fervor around it, as if there had never been any other healthy vegetables before it, as if it its renaissance was the result of the kind of PR team only a certain troubled mayoral candidate could dream of right now. And the kale chips of 2010 didn’t do much to convince me [ducks; sends self home from the internet in disgrace]. But it turns out, I like kale the way I like my slaws — raw, finely slivered, not overwhelmed by dressing and with just the right extra punches to round it out. Here, they’re golden raisins gently plumped with wine vinegar, deeply toasted walnuts, crunchy breadcrumbs, toasted in olive oil, and an uncompromising volume of salty aged pecorino romano. Both at home and the restaurant, we polished off the kale salad first; sheesh, even the resident 3 year-old was curious enough to take a bite (but, predictably, deemed only the raisins acceptable). In my house, that’s considered a home run.
One year ago: Leek, Chard and Corn Flatbread
Two years ago: Peach Butter
Three years ago: Zucchini Almond Pasta Salad
Four years ago: Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
Five years ago: Huevos Rancheros
Six years ago: Mixed Bean Salad
Kale Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
Like I did on a recent ice cream cake, please consider this a tale of two recipes, one that’s bare bones (add the raisins, walnuts and crumbs without the extra prep) and one if you’d like to get a little more depth from each. Both work, but the slightly longer prep (toasting the nuts, the crumbs in olive oil, plumping the raisins, etc.) really makes the salad sing and will not be regretted. You can choose your own adventure, too, doing more for some ingredients and less for others.
We had this with a tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato, egg and olive oil omelet), our first one of the summer, and it was the perfect weeknight dinner. It also reminded me that it was time to update and streamline/simplify my recipe from 2007, which I did. See it here.
1/2 cup (55 grams or 2 ounces ounces) walnut halves or pieces
1/4 cup (45 grams or 1 1/2 ounces) golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup panko (15 grams or 1/2 ounce) or slightly coarse homemade breadcrumbs (from a thin slice of hearty bread)
1 tiny clove garlic, minced or pressed
Coarse or kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch (about 14 ounces or 400 grams) tuscan kale (also known as black or lacinato kale; this is the thinner, flatter leaf variety), washed and patted dry
2 ounces (55 grams) pecorino cheese, grated or ground in a food processor, which makes it delightfully rubbly (1/2 cup total)
Juice of half a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
Prepare walnuts: Heat oven to 350. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, tossing once. Let cool and coarsely chop.
Prepare raisins: In a small saucepan over low heat, simmer white wine vinegar, water and raisins for 5 minutes, until plump and soft. Set aside in liquid.
Prepare crumbs: Toast bread crumbs, garlic and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a skillet together with a pinch of salt until golden. Set aside.
Prepare kale: Trim heavy stems off kale and remove ribs. I always find removing the ribs annoying with a knife, because the leaves want to roll in on the knife and make it hard to get a clean cut. Instead, I’ve taken to tearing the ribs off with my fingers, which is much easier for me. Stack sections of leaves and roll them into a tube, then cut them into very thin ribbons crosswise.
Assemble salad: Put kale in a large bowl. Add pecorino, walnuts and raisins (leaving any leftover vinegar mixture in dish), remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice and toss until all the kale ribbons are coated. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and some of the reserved vinegar mixture from the raisins, if needed. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving, if you can, as it helps the ingredients come together. Just before serving, toss with breadcrumbs and, if needed, a final 1 teaspoon drizzle of olive oil.