Is This Salad The Best Take On Kale? (Yes)

1Photo: Courtesy of Food52.
I came relatively late to kale salads, but now they're my favorite way to eat kale. At Spinnaker's, a gastro-pub in Victoria, my favorite dish on their menu is their kale salad. They do a Caesar spin on it and garnish it with bacon and focaccia croutons. I wanted to recreate the salad at home, but along the way I deviated a bit from the Spinnaker's salad.
Some people I have served kale salads to do not like the raw texture, but I found that if some hot ingredients were added to the raw kale, it wilts just enough to tone down the grassy chewiness. I kept the capers in the dressing, but upped the umami quotient with a good dose of lemon and anchovy. I have been a fan of roasted onions ever since Merrill posted her recipe for a tomato salad with corn, summer squash, and roasted onions. Now I am never without them in my refrigerator. I have adapted her recipe slightly, lowering the heat to prevent burning and adding a flavor boost from fresh thyme and rosemary. Despite a few steps (making croutons, and roasting onions), this dish comes together fairly quickly.
Caesar Style Kale Salad With Roasted Onions And Ricotta Salata
Salad Dressing:
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
12 capers, roughly chopped (if salt-packed, rinse before chopping)
1 to 2 large anchovies, roughly chopped (if salt-packed, remove tail, fins, and bones before chopping)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
The Rest Of The Salad:
2 sweet onions, preferably Vidalia or Walla-Walla
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary, about 1 inch long
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 to 3 slices day-old, best-quality bread (I like ciabatta or sourdough boule)
1 small bunch Lacinato kale
2 slices thick cut bacon
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata cheese (or you can substitute feta)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the salad dressing: Add lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, capers, anchovy, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce to bowl of blender and whir until thoroughly mixed and smooth. With the motor of the blender or hand blender running, add olive oil in a thin stream until thoroughly emulsified. Taste — the dressing should taste vibrant and lemony. Add a pinch or two of salt, a grind of pepper, and more lemon if needed. Put dressing aside until needed. (Note: Dressing can be made a few days ahead. Keep in a glass jar in the refrigerator and let sit out for about 15 minutes before dressing the salad.)
Roast onions: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut onions in half, then slice in half moons about 1/4-inch thick. Place onions, thyme, and rosemary on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and mix with your hands until herbs and onion slices are coated. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Mix with your hands again. Place pan in oven and roast for about 60 to 75 minutes or until onion slices have turned golden and soft and are caramelized. Start checking after about 60 minutes and remove onions before they begin to char. Burnt onions are not delicious!
Make croutons: Cut bread into large bite-sized cubes. Keep crusts on for more rustic croutons. Heat 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil in large heavy pan, like cast iron. Add bread cubes and cook over low heat, turning occasionally, until all surfaces of bread cubes are toasted and golden. Remove and set on a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt while still warm and set aside. (Croutons can be made a few days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)
Prepare kale: Wash kale in cold water. Several rinses may be needed to remove dirt and grit. Dry kale with a few layers of kitchen towels. Working carefully, remove thick stems from kale and roll kale leaves into long cigarette-style rolls. Cut kale into very thin strips. Add kale to salad bowl or serving plate. Pour 3/4 of the salad dressing over kale and toss with tongs or your hands until all leaves are coated.
Cook bacon: When onions are just starting to turn golden at the tips, slice bacon lengthwise and then cut into one-inch pieces. Sauté bacon in small skillet over medium low heat until cooked and crunchy. Pour bacon onto kale. If there is any rendered bacon fat in the skillet, add a spoonful of this to the kale, if you like. Remove onions from the oven and add them and any juices to kale. Mix thoroughly with your hands or tongs — the hot onions and bacon will slightly wilt the kale.
Finishing the salad: Add croutons and ricotta salata to salad. Pour in reserved salad dressing if salad looks a little dry. Toss again. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, adding a pinch or two of salt, a grind of pepper, or additional lemon. We enjoy this salad for dinner with a hearty vegetarian soup or fresh fish, simply prepared. Enjoy!

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