If spending at least a solid hour preparing and assembling a salad sounds like your version of hell, steer yourself over to one of the other equally delicious, but quicker variations of Caesar salad. Are you still here? Great, you have been cautioned and are clearly still devoted enough to proceed.
This adaptation takes the elements of a traditional Caesar salad and molds them into elevated versions of themselves that would be warmly welcomed at any adult dinner table. From the parmesan tuiles (pronounced “tweels” – you’re welcome for finding your new favourite word to say to yourself), to the crispy kale, this salad makes up for its time-consuming nature by offering intense amounts of crunch, aesthetic appeal, and sophistication. Is it labour-intensive? Yes. Does it use a lot of baking sheets? Yes. Could you serve it alongside a simple roast chicken for a dinner that restores honour and dignity to the smeared name of chicken Caesar salad? YES.
Plus, if we’re being truthful, all of the extra fancy steps are pretty optional. You could not do parmesan tuiles and instead serve with liberal shavings of parmesan. You could forgo crispy kale and instead use just one bunch of lacinato, torn or shredded, tossed with the curly kale. Chopped cubes of pancetta, fried on the stovetop, would happily stand in for the wheels of pancetta. There are ways to find shortcuts within this dish that will neither diminish the end flavor or your level of self-worth. Adapt it as you like and rest assured that the resulting salad will exceed most people’s expectations of the Caesar every time.
Fancy-Pants Kale Caesar
Adapted very liberally from David Robertson (The Dirty Apron Cookbook)
Dressing (taken almost verbatim from the original recipe):
3 egg yolks
3 anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup canola oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small loaf of rustic or country-style bread (preferably day-old), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp dried oregano
1/3 – ½ cup olive oil, depending on how dry the bread is
Salad and Assembly:
1 large (or 2 smaller) bunches lacinato/Tuscan kale, tough ribs removed and leaves left as intact as possible
1 bunch curly kale, tough ribs removed and leaves lightly torn into large pieces
12 thin slices pancetta (circles)
1 cup finely-grated parmesan cheese
Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients, except for the oil and lemon juice, in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, about one minute. With the food processor or blender running, slowly drizzle in the canola oil until the dressing emulsifies. It helps to pour the oil from a vessel with a narrow spout in order to avoid adding the oil too quickly, which will split the dressing. Once emulsified, the dressing should appear thick and creamy. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Pour into an airtight container or squeeze bottle and refrigerate until the salad is ready to serve.
Next, make the croutons and pancetta crisps. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the oregano and olive oil (start with the 1/3 cup and add more if the cubes seem dry). The bread should be uniformly coated with oil without being soaked or drippy. I tend to be generous with the oil as I like the croutons to get that fatty crunch to them. Scatter the bread on a lined baking sheet, ensuring that they form only a single layer. Place the pancetta slices on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet so that they can crisp up without puddling about in their own grease. Bake the bread cubes for 10-15 minutes (checking after 10 minutes) and the pancetta for 8-10 minutes. The pancetta may smoke a bit, so have the range fan on (or a towel ready to maniacally wave under the smoke detector). There is already a lot of crunch factor to this salad so it’s okay if the croutons have a bit more give than the ones in the other Caesar recipes. Let the croutons and pancetta cool while you assemble the remaining ingredients.
Crank the oven to 400 degrees F. On a cooled, lined baking sheet (not hot or even warm!) place small mounds of parmesan cheese in roughly 2 inch “circles”. Try to make the circles fairly even in thickness and ensure that there are no hole-y areas. Bake for just under 5 minutes, until the tuiles are lightly golden and lacey. It’s better to pull these out too early than too late, as too much extra cooking time tends to yield an acrid tasting tuile. If any tuiles come out a bit wonky, you can gently shape them back into rough circles while still hot using the blade of a blunt knife. Let cool completely.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Toss the curly kale leaves with a very light drizzling of olive oil (the least that you can possibly use really). Place kale on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes. You want the leaves crispy but not dissolving into dust. While the curly kale is roasting, stack the lacinato kale leaves into a tall pile. Roll up the leaves as best you can, then use a knife to shred them into thick ribbons (about ½ -inch thick). Place the shredded kale onto a large serving platter.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Using a spoon, gently lower the eggs into the boiling water and cook for anywhere from 6 ½ minutes (for an oozy, runny egg) to 10 minutes (for a firm hard-boiled egg). Run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking process. Peel once cool enough to handle, starting from the fat end (as this is your best bet for getting under the membrane that lies between the white and the shell).
Assemble the salad as follows:
Scatter the crispy kale leaves overtop of the shredded kale, lightly tossing the two so that neither kale comprises solely the top or bottom layer of the salad. Nestle the pancetta crisps between the kales, tucking into any crannies. Scatter the croutons over the salad, also nestling these as needed. Using a spatula, remove the parmesan tuiles from the baking sheet and slide them between the kale leaves so that their lacey edges peek out attractively. Cut the eggs in half (gingerly if using soft-cooked eggs to avoid the yolk dripping out) and gently place atop the salad. I like to pour the dressing into a squeeze bottle (which you can buy at the dollar store) and drizzle over the salad. It is also my personal preference to serve salads under-dressed with extra dressing on the side so that people can doctor up their portions to their liking. Serve immediately.