Second Fiddle

Posted By on June 28, 2010

This meal started at the Saturday farmer’s market, with me spending our last $20 for the month on a huge pile of fresh vegetables and fruit. Expect to see recipes including garlic scapes, French breakfast radishes, purple carrots, green beans and more in the near future. My first stop was again the Pitchfork and Crow booth, which I’ve mentioned before and like more than ever. Not only are they certified organic with a good selection of gorgeous produce, but they just seem so much friendlier than many of the folks manning veggie stalls at the market. Anyway, I bought arugula and dinosaur kale from them; the latter is so pretty that I can hardly ever resist it.

With no more money to buy proteins until Wednesday at least, I had to stretch the one chicken I had remaining in the fridge, so I decided to cut it up and use the breasts for one meal and the legs, thighs and wings for another. My chicken butchery has definitely gotten a bit more confident, and I got it into pieces in just a few minutes without much frustration, though I mangled the thigh-drumstick separation a little. The dark meat went into a Ziploc with some leftover barbecue sauce for an overnight soak, the carcass went into the freezer for the next time I need stock, and the breasts went into a hot skillet, skin-side down, to make a quick fricassee. I’ve used this recipe before to great effect, adapting it slightly by using thyme instead of tarragon and adding chunks of potato to the liquid for a built-in starch. With very little effort, the chicken comes out moist and already enrobed in a savory gravy, some of which soaks right into the potatoes.

As simple and tasty as that chicken dish is, in my mind it played a sorry second fiddle to the salad I made to accompany it. Rather than using the arugula, which would have been an obvious choice, I reached for the dinosaur kale, recalling a recipe I came across last year for a raw kale Caesar salad. A little research gave me a few techniques for rendering the somewhat tough and bitter green more palatable:

  • Remove the tough stems and chiffonade the kale; you want about 1/4″ ribbons.
  • Massage the kale for several minutes with a teaspoon of salt. Enhanced by the massaging motion, salt helps break down some of the plant’s cell walls and releases moisture, and causes the kale to soften and wilt almost as though it had been cooked. Excess salt can be rinsed away afterward.
  • Toss the kale with an acidic dressing 15-30 minutes before serving, which also helps to tenderize the greens.

I love Caesar salad, so it seemed like the perfect way to approach a raw kale salad. In a nod to the Italian affinity for greens and beans, I decided to put a little twist on the standard Caesar and make my dressing creamy via cannellini beans instead of mayo or egg yolk. It came together perfectly in the food processor and you can’t even tell there are beans present, so I will definitely be using this tweak again. I did omit the traditional anchovies from this dressing, not from pickiness, but simply because I ran out of them, and good quality anchovies are not easy to come by in Salem. Tossed with dressing and a shower of Parmesan, the kale was hearty but tender, packed with flavor but not the slightest hint bitter, and shockingly good for you. In the past, I’ve generally blanched my kale and served it in stews, gratins, or with a poached egg on toast, but now I’m just tempted to use it for salad. I have leftover dressing… wish I could run right back out and get a couple more bunches of that kale.

Any Caesar salad worth its salt has to have croutons, or at least some fresh bread. I had mixed up a super-sized batch of olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, which I’ve used before to make pizza crusts and focaccia. I got the dough started before the evening’s meal plan was fully formed, and by the time it was ready to bake, I had meringues slowly drying in the oven for dessert. So no bread and no croutons… I started picturing myself frying up blobs of dough on the stove-top, and looked it up to see if this was a viable idea. Sure enough, I found a similar recipe on the Food Network site using pizza dough, and forged ahead with greater confidence. The resulting croutons were on the large side, and look more like little bread nuggets or doughnuts, but they tasted fantastic. Once the salad was gone, we snacked on the rest of the croutons out of hand, and I could easily see these morphing into a sweet dessert rolled in cinnamon sugar. Just one more reason to keep a container of bread dough proofing in the refrigerator!

This post is my entry for the June 2010 edition of My Legume Love Affair, hosted this month by Diana of Spain in Iowa.

 

Massaged Kale Salad with White Bean Caesar Dressing

The same basic principles could be applied using any acidic salad dressing you choose, but I thought this one suited the kale perfectly, and will be my go-to Caesar dressing from here on out. The white beans provide not only a creamy texture, but a boost of protein and dietary fiber. Since the recipe doesn’t use a full can, you may care to scatter a few whole rinsed beans through your salad as well.

1/3 C canned white beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 T lemon juice
1 T red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 C olive oil
1/4 C grated Parmesan
Fresh Croutons (recipe below), or other croutons
1 1/4 tsp salt, divided
1 bunch Tuscan (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale, or cavolo nero), stemmed and sliced into 1/4-inch ribbons

Slice, rinse, and dry the kale; while still in a colander or salad spinner, sprinkle the kale with 1 tsp salt and massage it into the greens for 2-3 minutes, until they darken slightly and begin to wilt. Rise the kale well to remove the excess salt, and spin dry thoroughly.

In a food processor or blender, blend the beans, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, Worcestershire, and Dijon. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin steady stream. Taste and add 1/4 tsp or so salt and some fresh ground pepper.

About half an hour before serving, combine the kale and enough dressing to coat it. When ready to serve, toss with Parmesan cheese and croutons.

Source: Adapted from Boston.com.

Fresh Croutons

This recipe is more a guideline than anything, since you can make as few or as many croutons as you like. I used a handful of olive oil bread dough from the book, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day; I’ve used this dough previously for pizza and focaccia, and had made the batch just a few hours before.

About 1/2 C pizza or other yeasted bread dough
Fresh Parmesan, grated
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed, peeled

Cut the dough into little rectangles or roll into balls. They will puff up bigger as they cook so cut them a little smaller than you want them to be. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet add about 1/4-inch of oil. Heat on medium-low heat, add garlic cloves and saute until golden brown; remove the garlic before it burns.

Turn heat up to medium, and fry the bits of dough, turning to brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels briefly, then add to a bowl with a few tablespoons of Parmesan while still warm; sprinkle with seasoned salt if desired. Serve with your favorite salad.

Source: Adapted from Food Network.

Update 8/24/10: This salad is an excellent one to take to parties and potlucks, because it holds up well over time and doesn’t contain mayonnaise. I brought some to a preschool potluck today and was very pleased to see the whole thing disappear—two bunches of kale!

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