Monday, April 9, 2012

hopefully, a salad worth waiting for

lemony kale salad
i really debated not posting this recipe.
one of the main ingredients isn't even in season anymore,
for goodness' sake.
but, i really have been working on this post for months -
writing here and there,
editing the pictures,
occasionally adding one here -
and i decided that the only way that i can move on
and start posting, is if i get this mountain of a post
out of the way. so, i'm going for it.
delicata squash
half moons
roasted delicata
over the summer,
i was on a work trip and i was
asked if larry and i go out
to dinner.
my answer: yes, more than we
probably should, actually.
the response: based on your blog,
it doesn't seem like you do. i feel like
restaurants are a really good place
for inspiration.

i've been thinking about that a lot.
we do go out to eat - at least once a
week, on most saturdays.
but, we often go out for sushi,
or for food that i'm not so quick
to create at home. or, when
larry really just wants a steak.

that's not to say
that we don't sometimes go out
for dinner,
just because i'm craving something
or i've heard about a new restaurant,
or we're bored of all the other
places we regularly visit.

and, for all three reasons,
that's how we ended up
at porta, in asbury park,
in november.

porta is a newish restaurant,
factory and loft-like,
loud and packed,
drafty and somewhat threadbare
with picnic style seating and
wine served in juice glasses.
and, somehow, it's just right.

through first unfortunate,
and then, fortunate circumstances,
we nabbed a table within three minutes
of walking in, in spite of a 45 minute wait.
we were asked if we preferred to sit
next to each other, or across,
and even though the couple nearest
us had chosen the very close together option,
we decided to face each other.
i ordered a glass of red,
larry, surprised by the selection, and excited,
ordered a dale's pale ale.
in. the. can.

pizza, we knew, was dinner.
that is dinner at porta.
i ordered one with arugula and truffle oil.
larry's decision was made easy when he read
about the carbonara, whose star was the
egg baked into the cheese on top.

for an appetizer,
we debated between a few,
but i pushed hard for the
cavolo nero:
kale salad
with shaved watermelon radishes
and roasted sunchokes.

when it came out,
i was initially disappointed.
the plate was large - huge, i
might argue - but the salad seemed
small tossed into a messy
pile, somewhat off center on the dish,
somewhat, uncared for.

i divvied up most of it between two plates.
and, then, i took a bite.
this salad was fantastic.
the kale, not at all tender,
was full of character. the sunchokes
were golden, the radishes a slightly bitter
foil. the strips of toasted bread
seemed so much more than croutons,
garlicky and spicy. the teeny, tiny cubes
of pecorino were firm and salty,
and worth fishing off the bottom of the plate.

but the thing that i loved about this
salad, the thing that made me wish i had
ordered my own and the thing that
made me decide that i absolutely
had to make this at home,
was the bright lemony dressing,
way more acidic than i would have
ever had the nerve to serve.

i was sad when it was over.
my pizza - it was good.
the wine - i enjoyed.
but that salad.
it was an appetizer to
put all other appetizers to shame.
sourdough loaf
that tuesday,
i looked online and found
101 cookbooks.
it seemed so similar that i wondered
if porta had used it as a jumping off point
when creating theirs. heidi used breadcrumbs
instead of croutons, and her pecorino
was grated into shavings. but it seemed
like a good place to start.
chopped garlic, kosher salt
diced pecorino
dressing and pecorino
once made,
it was pretty clear that,
save for adjusting for personal taste,
this was the only recipe i needed.

i had toasted croutons,
and cubed the pecorino into
teeny tiny pieces, just like we
ate at porta. when we sat down
to eat the salad, i was thrilled
with the results.

slightly spicy
and a mouthful to eat.
this is food that you are forced
to chew, forced to experience
and, if you're larry, forced to embrace
several more times.
kale salad
lemony kale salad with pecorino
adapted from 101 cookbooks
i've made this salad several time since, adding roasted mushrooms, roasted halved shallots, roasted tomatoes, and most often, roasted delicata squash that has been seasoned with cayenne. i wish the salad in this picture featured any of the other options, because it's true: i took these pictures so long ago and started this blog post so long ago (i'm pretty sure i made this particular salad the same day i made cashew brittle for holiday gifts), that one of the main ingredients is no longer in season. don't fret - just add your favorite veggie to roast.

on the pecorino: i'm torn. the first few times i made this salad, i cut the pecorino into the teeniest tiniest bites. each time, they fell to the bottom of the salad, along with tiny pieces of garlic. each time i stabbed one with my fork, it was a gamble - would i end up with a mouthful of salty wonderfulness or a mouthful of garlic? so, this time, i made it with larger cubes and it was delicious, but much more salty. since making this salad, several kale salads have been posted online here and here. both involve grating the cheese. maybe an option?

last thing: leftovers are really, really good. maybe even better than the first time.

1 medium delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced
4-5 ounces bread (my favorites for this: sourdough and multigrain), cubed into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
4 large cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped and divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
pinch or two cayenne pepper, if desired
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided (or more to taste)
salt and pepper
1 large juicy lemon, juiced (you want at least 3 tablespoons)
2-3 ounces pecorino romano, cut into small dice
1 large bunch tuscan kale, stemmed and torn into 1-inch pieces

heat oven to 375˚f. in bowl, combine squash, 1 tablespoon olive oil, cayenne pepper, kosher salt and black pepper, if desired. place squash in single layer on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. bake 12 minutes; flip. bake 8-12 minutes more, or until tender and slightly golden. set squash aside.

meanwhile, prepare croutons: in same bowl that you used for the squash, combine bread cubes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 clove chopped garlic and a couple pinches red pepper flakes; season with kosher salt and black pepper, if desired. when the squash comes out of the oven, arrange croutons on baking sheet in single layer. bake 6-7 minutes, or until golden. flip and bake 5-7 minutes more, or until golden brown and crunchy throughout (if the croutons are not completely crunchy and you have leftovers, they will be soggy the next day. believe me: it's a bummer.)

meanwhile, place remaining garlic on cutting board. sprinkle with salt. let sit 5 minutes. cut and mash with sharp knife to form a chunky paste. transfer to a small bowl; add lemon juice and a remaining red pepper flakes. drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. add pecorino to dressing.

place kale in bowl (i use the same one that i used for the squash and croutons). top with squash and croutons (if you're going to save some of the salad for the next day, save some of the croutons, too). top with dressing and toss; let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.

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