This is one of my most satisfying mid winter salads. It’s January, the garden salad is a distant summer memory and my over wintering kale is in a January coma. The best of the market lettuces and salad mixes look pale and bland at best. It is a cruel time of year to want a salad. If you are in the neighborhood of Vashon Island, stop in at Plum Forest Farm and buy some of their hale and hearty Kale fresh from their gardens. If you must, select a few bunches of freshly misted organic kale from the produce aisle, choosing one of each color; dark, not so dark and a little less dark, much like our dark and dreary winter forecast. Many of us have rubbed kale with lemon juice to break up the toughness, mellow the bitter and punch up the flavor, so it is not a far reach to expand the job of lemons and go Caesar on the salad! Adding some herbed roasted (or fried) onions and bacon upped the umami quite a bit, but you can leave either out and still be delighted by this salad. I find it true that it takes more time during the winter to make food interesting, but you can prep this salad on a rainy Sunday while reading the paper and eat it all week, if you are so inclined.
Hale Casear Dressing:
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
24 or so caper berries (if salt packed, rinse. You have better control of salt)
2 or 3 anchovies, rough chopped (if you think you don’t like anchovies, trust me, try this. You will not know they are in there once it’s all mixed up)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
A few pinches of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or parmesan, or no cheese at all)
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Excellent salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Add everything EXCEPT the olive oil to blender and whir on medium speed until smooth. With the blender running, add olive oil in steady stream until thoroughly emulsified. Now taste. It should be bright and lemony. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, taste again, adding more lemon if needed. Yes, you can do this with a whisk or a hand mixer.
2 onions, can by any variety
2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
2 or 3 slices of day old bread
2 bunches of kale, can be any one variety or mix it up!
2 slices of bacon
1/2 cup (or more) of grated ricotta salata cheese, or feta, or pecorino cheese.
Heat oven to 350
Cut onions in half, then slice the half moons in about 1/4 inch slices. Place onions, thyme and rosemary on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of oil and mix with your hands to coat everything. Add a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper. Place pan in oven for about 60 minutes, checking at about 45, until onions are golden, soft and caramelized. Be sure to pull them before they char.
** Pan Fry Fast Alternative: I am particularly fond of red onions to fry, but either work just fine. On low-ish, heat just enough oil to thickly coat pan, add the sprigs of rosemary and thyme, heating until you smell the aroma of the herbs. Turn heat up to medium high and when it starts to sizzle, drop in your onion slices and fry until crispy and delicious. Yes, I leave the thyme and rosemary in the pan. You can take it out if you wish. Turn onions out onto a piece of parchment or paper towel. Now sprinkle with salt and pepper. Try not to eat them all before you make the salad!
Cut bread into cubes. If you pan fried your onions, re heat the oil, just enough oil to coat the bottom of pan and toss bread cubes in, tossing in pan until toasty golden. Turn out onto paper towel or parchment.
Prepare Kale for Caesar
Wash kale in cold water, dry on linen towel. I like to remove the thick stems from store kale as it seems tough and more bitter. Roll the kale leaves in a stack and slice into thin strips. Add to big bowl and toss with juice from half a lemon, rubbing the kale with your hands.
While the onions are finishing in the oven, cut bacon into pieces and saute in pan until crispy. (Yes, use the same pan as the croutons). If you want to pour a little of the rendered fat from bacon onto your kale in the bowl, that would be a very delicious idea.
Put it all together
Pour dressing on kale, toss with two spoons or forks. You want enough dressing for your salad to be well coated and shiny, but not dripping wet or pooling in the bottom of the bowl. Taste for salt and pepper.
Toss in croutons, bacon bits and sprinkle with a little more pecorino or parmesan cheese. Top with onions and Mangia!