Monday, February 7, 2011
Tuscan Kale Salad with Beurre Noisette & Sherry Vinaigrette
The kale in the greenmarket, when there’s any to be found at all that is, has gone pale at the edges, almost like it’s been dipped a scant millimeter or two into something white. Not the Tuscan kale above, which is magnificent. This lightening was quite distinct, and when I saw it on Friday, I thought there must be some new heirloom variety making the rounds. A quick discussion with the farmers though revealed the truth: that discoloration is from the heat of the greenhouses the kale’s grown in this time of year.
Perhaps you remember the kale I was so excited about back in January? They’d just dug it out from under the snow.
Kale is resistant to frost, and it actually has a higher sugar content, and therefore a finer, sweeter flavor, the colder the climate is in which it’s grown. I knew that day in January at the Rogowski Farm stand that I had the makings of one of my favorite salads, and we’ve been eating it regularly ever since. The nutty warmth and slight sweetness of beurre noisette (literally “hazelnut butter,” but really browned butter) is wonderful here with the dark, mineral leaves, the earthy edge of dry sherry vinegar, and the creamy, cool ricotta salata. It makes for a satisfying, winter lunch whenever you have a craving for savor, twang, and crunch.
I’ll confess though, this morning in the market I was struck with just such a craving, and there was nary a kale leaf in sight, white-tipped or otherwise. That's when I hightailed it to the supermarket for some organic Lacinato or Tuscan kale, and the flavor has been quite satisfactory. But I will try that greenhouse stuff, I will.
The trick to using beurre noisette in salads is that you don’t actually want the full hit of fat that comes with drenching your food in melted butter. Fortunately the answer is simple. After browning the butter, pour off most of the clarified portion and reserve for future use – it freezes well if you want to save it for the next time you make pommes anna or lobster or some such. Then deglaze the fond from the bottom of the pan with the sherry vinegar and use good olive oil to finish. You’ll have all of that rich, nutty flavor without any of the grease.
Toasted hazelnuts make a great addition to this salad, but my daughter’s so allergic that we can’t even have them in the house. That’s why I came up with the idea of adding some pangrattato, which lends a welcome toasted, garlicky note to the mix. But if you want to use the nuts too, they really are delicious.
And one last tip: get the vinaigrette onto the salad before tossing in the pangrattato. You want to coat the leaves thoroughly before the breadcrumbs have a chance to soak up all those savory, sherry vinegar-redolent juices.
Serves 2 - 3 for lunch or 4 – 6 as part of a larger meal
Extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1 ½ cups cups very coarse fresh bread crumbs
freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches Tuscan (Lacinato) or other kale, large stems removed and leaves torn into bite sized pieces
6 oz ricotta salata cheese
a couple of small handfuls of toasted hazelnuts (optional, peeled if desired)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed so it melts and browns evenly
3 tbsp dry sherry vinegar
4 – 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
Heat a large sauté pan over low heat. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to the pan and then the crushed garlic clove. Allow the garlic to sizzle for 30 seconds or so, and then add the breadcrumbs and season well with kosher salt and black pepper. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden and fragrant – you may need to add more olive oil if they absorb it all along the way. Remove from the heat before they're completely done - the carry over will continue to brown them for a while once they're off the heat, and they crisp up as they cool. Remove the garlic clove and reserve the bread crumbs.
Put your kale leaves in a large serving bowl. Shave your ricotta salata cheese with a “Y” or speed peeler and set aside separately. Give your hazelnuts a rough chop if using and set aside.
When you’re ready to serve the salad, place the butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. The butter will melt, and then foam, and then the foam will subside. When light brown specks begin to form in the butter, test it for a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat as soon as this develops and place the pan on a cold surface to help stop the cooking. The difference between browned butter and burnt is just a few moments, so don’t walk away, and resist any urge to put your laptop on the kitchen counter and check who’s commented on that hilarious grade school photo you just posted to Facebook.
Tip the pan gently, wait a few moments for the sediment to settle, and use a spoon to lift away as much of the clarified butter as you can without losing the grainy, browned portion. A little clarified butter will remain, and that's a good thing. Put the pan back over low heat and add the sherry vinegar. Allow to bubble over the heat for a scant 20 seconds, scraping the toasted milk solids from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper and check the flavor with a little spritz of lemon if desired.
Pour the warm dressing over the kale leaves and toss well. Add the ricotta salata, hazelnuts, and half the bread crumbs, and toss again. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary, garnish with the remaining breadcrumbs, and serve immediately.