Kale Caesar Salad with Savory Croutons
Last year I fell in love with kale, featuring it in a spicy vegetarian kale and wheat berry salad and loving it tender in a braised kale with white beans and turnips dish. Yet in all my flirtations with this leafy super food I never strayed from the stove. Until now.
Raw kale? Is it even edible? A recipe from the famous Tartine Bakery for a Kale Caesar Salad mentioned on Tasting Table caught my eye and piqued my curiosity. I mentally toyed with the possibility of a kale salad but could not get past my skepticism. Then Mr. B asked if I had seen the recipe (he subscribes to Tasting Table also- another reason I love him) and said he thought it was intriguing. Having learned many times before to trust Mr. B’s food instincts I shoved my skepticism aside and decided to give raw kale a try.
When it comes to creating mind-blowing flavors Tartine Bakery has a long history of success. I just never expected the creators of insanely delicious eclairs to also be so talented in the savory realm. This recipe proved me wrong in so many ways! Big crusty croutons are flecked with herbs and toasted to golden perfection. Dark green lacianato kale supports the weight of the croutons along with a shower of shredded Parmesan cheese. All of these components are delicious in their own right, but what totally blew my mind was the Caesar dressing. A powerhouse of flavor, it packs a lemony, garlicky, umami-filled punch that hits your taste buds with a jolt. In short- I went nuts for it.
The recipe makes a large amount of dressing- easily enough for 10+ people. Both of us loved the kale Caesar salad so much that we ate it twice a day for over a week. It was that good. My fears about raw kale were put to rest. Yes, it is a chewy and somewhat bitter green, but with the tough stems removed kale is the perfect foil for an aggressive Caesar dressing and big fat sourdough croutons. My hat goes off to Tartine Bakery for knocking it out of the park with this recipe. While I may never be able to replicate their flaky croissants at home, this is a salad that will show up again and again at our table. Raw kale, welcome to the party!
Eight 1-inch slices day-old country bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (I used a rustic sourdough)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (optional)
Kale Caesar Salad:
3 garlic cloves
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets (or 3 Tablespoons anchovy paste)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste (I used the juice of 1 1/2 lemons)
1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
4 heads (about 2 pounds) black or lacianato kale, center stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bake the Croutons:
Pre-heat an oven to 400° with a rack in the middle. Place the bread chunks into a large bowl, and drizzle them with the olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt, and the herbes de Provence. Toss the bread until the chunks are evenly coated with the oil and seasonings. Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and place in the oven, stirring the croutons after about 5 minutes, then baking until they are golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes total. Remove from the oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Assemble the Dressing:
Using a mortar and pestle or the edge of a heavy chef’s knife and a cutting board, pound/mash the garlic, anchovies, and lemon zest together until they form a thick paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and whisk in the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a few drops of the lemon juice, until well combined. Scrape the paste into a blender. With the blender motor running on low, slowly dribble in 1/2 cup of the olive oil, allowing the olive oil to create an emulsion with the egg yolk and paste. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula as necessary. With the motor running on low, add in the remaining olive oil in a slow stream, alternating with the remaining lemon juice. The dressing will thicken. Once the oil and lemon juice are incorporated, taste the dressing and season with additional salt and lemon juice to taste. If the dressing is too thick, thin it out by dribbling in a little water while the motor is running. Store leftover dressing in the fridge for up to 1 week. Let the dressing warm up to room temperature before using.
Assemble the Salad:
Place the torn kale in a large bowl along with the croutons, tossing to mix. Drizzle the dressing on top of the salad to taste, tossing to evenly coat the kale and croutons. Save any leftover dressing for another use. Add the Parmesan to the bowl, toss the salad again, and serve immediately.