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When it comes to restaurant salads, it takes a lot to impress me. I’m the opposite of a Kardashian who sits over a bowl of greens and treats it like a plate of cacio e pepe. No ma’am, not me, no thank you.
A plate of garden veggies must be really exciting for me to rave about it on social media. Otherwise, give me a chicken finger, give me cake, heck — give me a limited edition Oreo. But don’t put lettuce in front of my face and try to convince me it’s worthy of a square on the Instagram grid. Pffft.
But there is one salad that proved the first exception to this rule: a now-defunct kale variety (R.I.P.) I had at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s since-shuttered Public Kitchen and Bar (R.I.P., again).
In what seems like a past life, I was a publicist for TLC, representing Mama June and Honey Boo Boo, who actually preferred to stay at Hollywood’s most iconic hotel (much to my annoyance, since it’s haunted and located in tourist trap central, but I digress). You can only imagine what my diet looked like for four days as I brought the Sketti-eating duo (that’s ketchup, butter and spaghetti) around for media hits during a jam-packed press tour. To keep things succinct: It wasn’t cute.
So, I desperately plopped myself down in the Public’s dining room and ordered the kale salad. It didn’t seem *too* healthy, which was appealing. After all, pancetta breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and currants sat pretty on its ingredient list, but the garlic vinaigrette really caught my eye. The Italian in me thought, “Let’s give this salad a shot for the sake of my metabolism and intestines.”
And then, my perception of what a salad could be changed forever.
This kale concoction is an explosion of practically every flavor your palate can experience: salt from the cheese and pancetta, sharpness from the garlic, tang from dijon mustard, herbaceousness from parsley, bitterness from the kale, earthiness from pine nuts, spice from black pepper and sweetness from the currants — a well-rounded feast of flavors that clamor to emerge independently from your tongue while also coexisting to create an unrivaled balance and finesse. And don’t even get me started on the texture: The crunch of the pancetta with the creaminess of the pine nut plays beautifully off the dressing that coats each and every curled crevice of every leaf.
It was the most perfect salad I had ever tasted, but my experience was dashed when the server refused to share the recipe. In fact, she was downright dismissive, suggesting that I attempt to recreate it on my own. Girl, please.
The joke was on her because one simple Google search in my hotel room revealed that Chef Tim Goodell (who ran the kitchen at the time) shared his recipe at an event called Chefs Picnic Club at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve made it no less than 100 times ever since — at potlucks, Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, you name it. I know that when I’m bringing the kale salad, it’s going to be the talk of the evening. And I know that I’m also bringing a tin of mints because that garlic vinaigrette is potent, and, frankly, I’m providing everyone a service by thinking in advance.
Which leads me to the entire point of this article: providing a service for you, a beloved reader, with a link to the best kale salad recipe of all time… OF ALL TIME (Kanye West-style theatrics and all).
Some salads have come close (from LA, ironically, like Jon & Vinny’s Gem Lettuce Salad or Hippos’s Charred Green Bean Salad with Hazelnuts and Serrano Chilies), but nothing — I repeat NOTHING, and with all the hyperbole I can muster — has surpassed the feeling I get when I nosh on this bad boy.
So eat your heart out, Kim Kardashian. And I mean that literally. This will put your boring Health Nut salad to absolute shame, no questions asked.
Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Currants, Pancetta Breadcrumbs and Parmesan
Yields 4 servings
8 cups kale, shredded without ribs
1/4 cup currants (dried cranberries or blueberries also work)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup pancetta breadcrumbs
1 cup garlic vinaigrette (recipe below)
1 cup fine grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or olive oil, if need be)
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
In a food processor, blend vinegar, garlic and mustard, adding oil in a slow stream to emulsify.
Season with salt and pepper; add chopped parsley.
In a bowl, mix together the kale, dressing, pine nuts and currants.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the dressed salad on a plate; top with pancetta breadcrumbs (recipe below).
Pancetta Breadcrumbs (3/4 cup breadcrumbs, 4 ounces pancetta)
Slice pancetta thinly, place on a baking pan and render the fat in the oven until pancetta is crispy.
Once cooled, chop finely and mix into breadcrumbs.
If you enjoyed this story, check out these 5 quick tips for growing herbs this summer!
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