Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Classic Beef Stew

My first cooking class of 2021 was called Classic Comfort Food.  Even though the phrase "comfort food" is a bit of a cliché, I am unapologetic about the title.  I think it is useful in describing what we all seem to need at the moment.  It is meant to describe food that transports us to tables and moments past when simple, familiar food—prepared by someone who loved us—had the ability to momentarily hold our worries at bay.  I could use some of that right now.  Furthermore, for me, these foods also remind me of people that I love—and meals shared with them.  Since I’m eating all of my meals alone these days, I could use some of that too. 


The beef stew my mother made when I was growing up was delicious.  I was a picky eater…but I loved her stew.  The stew I make today is actually very similar to the one she made.  I have returned it to its French roots (with a bit more attention to technique…and added red wine, bacon and mushrooms), and I have omitted her final addition of peas.  But otherwise, the tender meat, carrots, and potatoes, suspended in a rustic “broth” –lightly thickened by virtue of the flour-dredged beef, the onions that have disintegrated from long cooking, and the starch released from the potatoes—is exactly like hers.  There are no tomatoes…or peppers…or other odd ingredients that I would have resented as a child—just a simple, straight forward, bowl of beefy goodness.  I always think of long ago family meals when I sit down to a bowl of that stew.

If you have never made beef stew, this one is a good place to start.
  It gives back loads of flavor for minimal effort...and is a perfect activity for a homebound Saturday or Sunday. As with all braises, it will take the better part of the afternoon to make.   But since most of that time is in the oven with nothing required of you (other than the occasional peek under the lid), it counts as easy in my book.  If you aren’t familiar with the hows, whys and processes of a braise, check out my basics post from a few years ago before getting started.

One important thing to note: when you’re shopping, make sure you purchase beef chuck or boneless short rib meat—not the “stew meat” sold at most butcher counters.
  Generic stew meat is usually a mystery conglomeration of beef trim that serves as a way for the butcher to make money from what would otherwise go in the trash.  To prepare a good stew, you need specific tough, sinewy cuts from around the joints and well-used muscles of the animal.  “Stew meat” may or may not contain these cuts. 

Furthermore, the pieces of meat you use for your stew need to be on the large side—certainly larger than the nubbins in the stew meat bin.
  Small pieces of meat will disintegrate into the broth.  The large pieces will look more attractive and be easier to serve.  It is an easy thing to just cut up a chuck roast or some boneless beef short ribs yourself when you get home.  Cut the meat into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cubes.  These pieces will seem large…but they will shrink as they cook.  And you needn’t worry that the large pieces will be difficult to eat from a bowl:  when cooked properly, the meat is tender enough to be “cut” into bite-sized pieces with a spoon.   Another bonus in cutting the meat yourself:  you can be as fastidious as you like in removing the fat.  I generally only remove obvious, large knobs since most of the fat will dissolve and add flavor and moisture to the stew.  Any excess can be blotted off or skimmed away from the finished stew. 


I had hoped that this year would be less traumatic than last.  So far the year isn’t very promising.  One of the things I have control over is how I feed myself.  So, I continue to cook….every day.  I highly recommend it.  Occasionally preparing and eating a bowl of stew…or some other delicious and simple food that reminds me of people I wish I could be with and better days…gives me a measure of hope that things will one day be better again. 


Classic French-style Beef Stew

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boneless beef short ribs or chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt & freshly ground pepper
4 oz. thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 onions, (about 1 lb.) cut in a 1/2-inch dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 c. dry red wine
3 to 4 c. beef or chicken stock—if using canned, use low-salt
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut crosswise on a 1/2-inch short diagonal
1 lb. Yukon potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and halved (quartered, if large)
1/4 c. minced flat-leaf parsley


The day before you plan to prepare the stew, season the meat generously with salt.  I use 3/4 t. of kosher salt per pound of meat (so about 2 t.).  Wrap loosely and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the stew: Render the bacon in a large stew pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat.
  When the bacon is crisp, remove it along with the fat, reserving each separately. 


While the bacon cooks, dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess.  


Return enough of the bacon fat to the pan to coat the bottom of the pan and increase the heat to medium-high.  Brown the beef on all sides—it may be necessary to do this in batches so the pan isn’t over-crowded.  


Add more bacon fat as necessary.  Remove all the meat to a platter 


and add more bacon fat or olive oil to the pan.  Add the onions.  Regulate the heat as necessary to sweat the onions just until softened and beginning to take on a golden color (about 5 to 10 minutes).  


Add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute or so.  Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the caramelized meat and vegetable juices.  Reduce the wine by at least half. 


Return the meat to the pan and add enough broth to cover the meat.  


Add the thyme.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and transfer to a preheated 300° oven.  Bake for 2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the stew is cooking at a bare simmer.  It should not boil hard…but it should maintain an active simmer.  Reduce the oven temperature if necessary.

After 2 hours, remove the stew from the oven.  If there is a lot of grease pooling on the surface, spoon it off, or blot with a paper towel.  


Add the potatoes and carrots, season with salt and pepper, cover and return to the oven until the meat and vegetables are fork tender (about 45 minutes to an hour more).


While the stew finishes cooking, sauté the mushrooms in some of the bacon fat (or olive oil or butter) until nicely browned; Season with salt and pepper and set aside.


When the vegetables are tender, carefully stir in the mushrooms and bacon.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Remove the thyme sprigs and serve, sprinkled with minced parsley.  Serves 6
 

(Recipe adapted from The Kansas City Star November 11, 1992)

Variation

  • Classically, this French-style stew would be finished with glazed pearl onions in addition to the mushrooms and bacon.  To prepare the pearl onions, place 8 oz. of peeled pearl onions in a saucepan and cover them with water.  Add 1/2 T. of butter, a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook until almost tender.  Uncover and increase the heat to high and boil until the liquid is reduced to a glaze; reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the glaze turns a golden brown, swirling the pan to coat the onions with the glaze.  Scatter the pearl onions over the stew with the mushrooms and bacon.  Or, for a more classic presentation, reheat the pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon separately and garnish each bowl of stew individually with them.
  • For a more American-style beef stew, omit the red wine, mushrooms and bacon.  Brown the meat in vegetable oil.  Add a cup of frozen peas to the stew during the last five minutes of cooking.



Monday, November 30, 2020

Pumpkin Boule with Dried Cranberries & Pepitas

I have been baking yeast breads for a long time.  Long before I went to cooking school to become a chef I was making pizza dough…my grandmother’s dinner rollscinnamon buns…honey whole wheat loaves…etc.  I can probably knead dough in my sleep.  But at some point during the last 20 years or so the manner in which kneading is accomplished began to expand and change.  The methods and techniques I learned are still used…they work very well after all—and they still produce beautiful breads.  But among artisan bread bakers—whose amazing “old world” breads can now be found in specialty bakeries everywhere—you will often find that they are manipulating their doughs in a very different way. 


I was aware that this alternate method of working with dough was developing around me.  But it—along with sourdough—seemed beyond the purview of the occasional bread baker.  It was while learning about sourdough by watching the IG Live tutorials from Bread Ahead Bakery during the early days of the pandemic that I discovered that this new method (“folding” the dough…as opposed to kneading) was in fact less—rather than more—complicated.

The reason we knead dough is to develop gluten.
  Wheat flour contains a couple of proteins that produce gluten when water (or other liquid) is introduced via a mechanical action like stirring…or kneading.  The stretchy strands of gluten are what give yeast doughs their strength and their loft.  If you have ever kneaded dough, you have seen this development occur as the dough goes from a lumpy mass to a smooth, springy ball. 

If I understand the process correctly, in the slow measured pace of the “no knead” folding method, much of the mechanical action is occurring at the microscopic level as the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour.
  By occasionally folding the dough over on itself, you are exposing the yeast to fresh sources of food so it can continue to multiply…and at the same time as you stretch the dough during each fold you are strengthening the developing gluten.  And if you try this method, each time you return to the bowl to give the dough a fold, you will notice that the dough discernibly smoother and is increasingly more supple and elastic.  It really is amazing.  

Here are some pictures of Ciabatta from first sloppy mix to risen dough (after three sets of folds): 



Having described it as I understand it at this point, I feel I must add a caveat.
  I have barely scratched the surface in acquiring knowledge of this big world of artisan breads…my understanding of this process is minimal and mostly experiential.  Ten years from now I may come across this post and be appalled at how I’ve described it.  In the end, what I really know now is that the breads I have made using this method have been fantastic.  And I’m excited to continue to expand my repertoire of breads that use it.

There are a couple of ways (that I know of…probably more) to execute a fold.
  Many people simply leave the dough in the bowl.  To fold, simply grab one side of the dough, pull up—stretching it as far as it will allow without tearing or breaking—and then lay it down over itself.  Repeat this action three times, giving the bowl a quarter of a turn each time so that you are folding the dough from all four points of the compass.  My preferred way of folding is to tip the dough out on an oiled sheet pan (or you can simply oil your counter), gently flatten/stretch it a bit into a rectangle and then execute two letter or envelope-style folds:  fold the top third of the rectangle down…then the bottom third up (as if you were folding an 81/2- by 11-inch sheet of paper to stuff into an envelope).  Rotate the resulting slender rectangle a quarter of a turn…flatten it slightly and repeat the same style of fold.  Turn it over and put it back in the bowl. 

This fall as we approached pumpkin season, armed with my new knowledge, I was determined to work on a yeasted pumpkin bread that I have been playing around with for several years now.
  I always felt it had great potential…but I was somehow missing something in the process that would turn it into a consistent and delicious loaf.

"Crumb shot" of that first never-to-be-duplicated loaf.

The first time I made this pumpkin boule I had been poking around looking for a bread that used whey.  I frequently have whey on hand (left after making Labneh) and feel bad just throwing it away.  Somewhere I had read it was good in bread.   I found a recipe for a pumpkin and whey boule by Dan Lepard that looked interesting.  Then I had pumpkin bread on the brain so I started looking for other pumpkin yeast bread recipes.  I found one that was similar, but also included some traditional spices (which seemed like a great idea).  The loaf I ended up making pulled from both recipes…and it was delicious.

Unfortunately I was never really able to repeat the success (although I tried every year).
  This year though, with some of my newly acquired knowledge and experience, I thought I would try again…this time incorporating folding…and baking in a Dutch oven (something else I had never tried prior to the pandemic).

It’s amazing what a little knowledge can do.
  The loaf was all I had hoped and imagined it could be: a crusty boule with a tender crumb…studded with crispy pepitas and tangy craisins.  I realized only later that I had forgotten to use whey….  I like it so well just the way it is that I have never even tried to make it with whey (even though I have made it several times this fall).

I have loved having this bread on hand during the autumn months.  (So much so that it replaced my new “house” sourdough loaf for a while…).  It is delicious toasted …smeared with Labneh…or butter…and honey.  I’m sure no one is surprised to hear that I have put it through its paces for grilled cheese sandwiches.  (It makes an unbelievably good grilled cheese–especially if you include a little bit of tangy goat cheese…).  And of course it is very fine sandwiched around roast turkey, crunchy lettuce, cranberry sauce and mayo…plus whatever else you happen to like on your leftover turkey sandwich.  It is a loaf I am certain will be a part of my autumn repertoire for years to come. 


 

Pumpkin Boule with Craisins & Pepitas

285 g. warm water (see notes)
165 g. pumpkin purée/solid pack pumpkin
4 g. (1 1/4 t.) instant or active dry yeast
500 g. bread flour
25 g olive oil
10 g (1 1/2 t.) fine salt
1/8 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
Olive oil for folding
85 g. pepitas, lightly toasted (see notes)
125 g. craisins (left whole, or coarsely chopped)


Place the water in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the pumpkin.
  Sprinkle the yeast over this mixture and whisk in.  If you are using active dry yeast, wait a minute or two for the yeast to soften (instant yeast will dissolve “instantly”).  Add the flour, olive oil, salt and spices (in that order)


 
and mix until you have a homogenous mass.  (A Danish dough whisk is my new favorite tool for this initial mixing—but if you don’t have one, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon is fine—just remember to scrape all the dough off of your tool and back into the bowl—you don’t want to waste/lose any dough.)  


Using a rounded bowl scraper, scrape down the sides/clean the bowl so that you have a nice, neat mass of dough.
  


Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 1/4 hour.
 


After an hour and a quarter, execute the first fold, incorporating the pepitas and craisins at the same time:  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on a sheet pan 


and spread with your hands (or a brush) so that the dough won’t stick.  Scrape the dough in one mass onto the oiled sheet and with lightly oiled hands/fingertips, nudge the dough out into a large rectangle. (Only stretch as much as the dough will allow without tearing.)  Scatter two-thirds of the craisins and two-thirds of the pepitas over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangle.


Starting with the portion of the dough without any pepitas or craisins, fold the dough in thirds as if you were folding a letter to put it in an envelope.  


Rotate the dough 90
° and repeat this letter/envelope fold with the remaining third of the pepitas and craisins (spreading out the dough as much as it will allow and placing the craisins and pepitas only on the lower two-thirds of the dough). 





When you are done you will have a square-ish ball of dough with all of the craisins and pepitas encased inside.  Place the dough back in its bowl and cover again with plastic wrap.


After 45 minutes, scrape the dough back out onto the oiled sheet and give it another two letter/envelope-style folds exactly as before (only this time you obviously won’t be adding anything to the dough).  



Return to the bowl and let it remain at room temperature until almost doubled—about an hour.
  

Transfer to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation and allow the flavor to develop overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the fridge (it will have more than doubled) and scrape it onto a lightly floured counter.  


Give it a gentle pre-shape into a loose ball (in doing this, you will effectively deflate the dough—but don’t aggressively “punch it down” or “knock it back”—just gently form it into a round).  

Turn the bowl upside down over the ball of dough and let it rest on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. 

After it has had a rest, scrape most of the flour off of the counter and form the dough into a tight ball/boule by working against the counter.  (If any craisins pop through the surface during this process, simply poke them back toward the interior of the loaf and pinch the dough around them—they will burn during the baking process is left exposed on the surface.)   Place the loaf with the pinched side/seams down on a semolina dusted or parchment-lined (see notes) sheet pan or pizza peel.

Turn the mixing bowl upside down over the dough again and let the loaf rise in a warmish spot until it is doubled (until the dough doesn’t spring back—or springs back very slowly—when prodded with a floured finger).  I often resort to sticking the peel/pan with the loaf in the oven with the light on…or with the proofing function on…when my house is very cold.  The loaf should be ready to bake in about 3 hours.

A half hour before you are ready to bake, place a covered 5 quart (or thereabout) Dutch oven in your oven and preheat the oven to 475°.  When ready to bake, uncover the loaf and dredge lightly (using a small sieve) with flour.  Give the loaf three parallel slashes with a sharp knife or razor blade.  

Take the Dutch oven out of the oven (be careful…it is screaming hot), remove the lid and transfer the loaf to the pot—either by placing your open hands on either side of the loaf and scooping it up and dropping it quickly and gently into the pot…or by lifting it using the edges of the parchment paper and placing it in the pot with the parchment underneath.  Put the lid back on and transfer to the oven.  Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 450°.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and continue to bake until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 205°…another 15 minutes (give or take, depending on your oven).

Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and cool on a wire rack (I cool mine just by letting it sit on the “grates” of my gas stove).  It should be completely cool before slicing.


Notes:
 

  • Cinnamon and ginger in small quantities enhance yeast activity. In large quantities they have the opposite effect and retard the activity of the yeast. Furthermore, this loaf is not intended to be “spicy” or have any kind of a sweet, “pumpkin spice” flavor profile. The spices are present to add warmth…and a hint of flavor and fragrance evocative of flavors we associate with autumn. Adding extra spice will not do any favors for the yeast…or, in my opinion, the final flavor.
  • Yeast thrives and is happiest in a warmish environment. When I mix up this dough, I aim for an initial dough temperature of 80 to 83 degrees. You will need to consider the temperature of the major ingredients (flour, pumpkin and water) in order to achieve this. In the fall and winter my home is cool (somewhere around 67° or less). This means my flour will be about that temperature…and the pumpkin too, if I am just opening a can. But more often than not, I make this bread when I have a portion of a can left…which means the temperature of the pumpkin will be closer to 40°. Since I want my dough to be around 80°, the only way to get it there is by manipulating the temperature of the water. For me, this means I use hot tap water and then I take the temperature of the water after I put it in the bowl (remember, the bowl is cool too, if it has been at room temperature, and will bring down the temperature of the water). I have found that with room temperature flour…and cold pumpkin…if my water temperature in the bowl is around 115°…that I end up with an initial dough temperature (right after mixing) of 81°. If your house is significantly warmer than mine…and if your pumpkin is at room temperature…you will need to lower the temperature of the water a bit. And if all of this is too complicated for you, just mix up your dough with warm water. As long as you don’t allow your yeast to come into contact with water/liquid that is hotter than 115° you will be able to produce a nice loaf…it will just rise/prove at a different rate than mine. 
  • To toast the pepitas, spread them in a small baking pan and place in a 350° oven for 7 to 10 minutes—or until some are beginning to turn golden around the edges. You may also toast them in a dry skillet over moderate heat (but you must stir frequently and regularly…and constantly at the end). 
  • This is not a particularly wet dough and I have not had difficulty moving it from the board to the Dutch oven, but if you are worried that it might stick…or that you will have difficulty scooping it up and moving it to the pot…let it proof/rise on a square of parchment paper. Then when it comes time to transfer it to the Dutch oven, simply lift and move it using the parchment paper. It will not harm the loaf to bake it with parchment paper in the pot. 

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Friday, October 30, 2020

Kale Salad…it’s all about the timing


For the past twenty years my work as a private chef has allowed me the luxury of cooking food and serving it right away (as opposed to catering work where one prepares food for transport and reheat).  But my new curbside pickup dinners have put me in the position of cooking food more like a caterer.  This food has to withstand packaging, transport, and reheating/finishing out of my sight.  I find this (particularly the “out of my sight” part) a bit stressful…but in the grand scheme of stressors inherent in our pandemic world, this is minor. For me, many of the pitfalls of this kind of cooking can be avoided—or at least minimized—with careful menu planning.

As I have navigated designing menus for these dinners, one of the difficulties has been salads.  I love salad—of all kinds.  Anytime I prepare a multi course meal I want to include salad.  Not only do they add something fresh and raw, they are a great source of textural and flavor counterpoint to the richer foods usually included in the entrée and/or the dessert.  Unfortunately, once lettuces have been dressed they have to be eaten straight away…making a dressed lettuce-based salad inappropriate for inclusion in a meal destined to be consumed at a later time.  By the time the dressed salad gets to its destination it will have wilted from the weight and acidity of the vinaigrette.


The obvious solution to this problem is to package the salad components and the dressing separately.
  This is a reasonable way to present the salad…and I have done it (and will do it again)…but this solution has its pitfalls too.  Salads are best when the lettuces and additions are tossed together (by hand) in a bowl so that everything will be lightly and evenly coated with just the right amount of vinaigrette.  A well dressed salad is typically not perfectly dressed after the first “toss.”  When I dress a salad, I add salt and pepper, drizzle in some vinaigrette, toss, and then taste.  At this point the salad will probably require some more attention:  Maybe more salt…or a tad more dressing…or a squeeze of lemon even.  I always add less dressing than I think I need at the first pass because an overdressed salad is soggy—and once added you can’t take it away.  (You can always add more.)  Even with a small instruction sheet that is sent home with the curbside dinners, I have no way of knowing if this is how people are dressing their salads.  I wonder if the salad ingredients are simply turned onto a plate with the entire contents of the vinaigrette container poured over.  I’m sure—because the ingredients are delicious—that when eaten this way that the salads are fine.  But they might not be as good as they could be.  And I want to serve food that is more than “fine.”  I want it to be delicious!

So far the best solution I have discovered to my salad dilemma (besides choosing an appetizer other than a salad…) is to choose greens that taste even better after the dressing has had time to sit on them and soften them a bit.  The most obvious green in this category has been green cabbage…in coleslaw. 

Growing up I didn’t think of coleslaw as salad.  I thought of it as some bizarre inedible found at almost every potluck gathering or as the obligatory accompaniment to otherwise delicious barbecue.  I don’t know when it dawned on me that it could actually be a delicious salad (Coleslaw is from the Dutch Koolsla, which translates as “cabbage salad”)…but I have probably written about this before…and have actually posted a couple of tasty recipes. I think the coleslaw I included in one of my summer dinners went over very well.  And as we head into the winter—when cabbage comes into its own—I will probably include coleslaw of some kind again.

But the salad green that has been the very best for my curbside pickup dinners has been kale.  This may cause some eye rolls or heavy sighs from people who are tired of kale.  In recent years kale has enjoyed immense popularity…and has also suffered a fall from favor that is surely a backlash due to overexposure.  And this is a shame.  I won’t get into all of the whys of kale's rise and fall here—mostly because I don’t really understand how a food suddenly become an “it” food in the first place.  I will only say that one of the main reasons that overexposed foods fall out of favor is misuse and improper preparation.  Kale has definitely suffered from both of these.  When served cooked, it is frequently undercooked (not all vegetables should be crunchy or al dente!)…and when served as a salad, often—believe it or not—it isn't dressed far enough in advance.

Kale is after all cabbage.  The Italian name for Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero) means black cabbage.  So it makes sense that this substantial and impervious green would taste best in a salad after it has had time to absorb the flavor…and soften from the acidity…of the dressing.  Kale salads stand up so well to the dressing that they can even be eaten as a leftover the next day.  (If you have ever tried to eat leftover dressed salad made with baby lettuce or arugula…or just about any other salad green…before, you probably don’t believe this.)  In fact, kale salads are often better the next day (depending on what else is in the salad).

As far as my dinners were concerned, I had forgotten about kale salads because I don’t tend to eat them in the warmer months (although I do make a delicious warm weather entrée-sized kale salad that involves roasted corn and Italian sausage…).  It was only when I began planning a curbside menu for the first of the cooler weather…and I saw kale back at the farmers market…that I thought about the advantages of using it for a curbside dinner.

The salad I made for the most recent dinner was a combination of the one found on the blog Smitten Kitchen…and the first kale salad I ever tasted (made by my chef friend Nancy).  I borrowed the golden raisins, walnuts, salty pecorino and garlicky toasted breadcrumbs from Smitten Kitchen…and took some crunchy, shaved celery and a fantastic Honey-Dijon vinaigrette from Nancy.  The resulting salad was really, really good:  a flavor party of contrasting tastes and textures.   After the curbside dinner I had leftovers of all the salad ingredients.  So I was able to enjoy this salad for lunch and dinner several days running (with soup…grilled cheese…quesadilla…etc.).  I never got tired of it.

One of the morals of the story here is that if you think you don’t like kale salads, it may be because you have always eaten them too soon after they have been dressed.  I suspect that if you prepared a kale salad for yourself …and then waited a half hour or so to eat it…that you would find that you really liked it.  This particular kale salad would be a great one to use as your first test case.  


  Autumn Kale Salad

100 g. (scant cup) walnuts
62 g. (mounded 1/3 cup) golden raisins
4 t. each white wine vinegar and water
1/4 c. coarse fresh bread crumbs
2 t. olive oil
1 very small clove of garlic
170 g. prepared Tuscan kale (see note)
100 g. (1 c.) thinly sliced celery
2 oz. pecorino, grated medium fine (it should have some texture)
1/2 recipe Honey-Dijon vinaigrette (below)

Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and place in a 350° oven and toast until they begin to take on a golden color and are fragrant—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool (if you like, toss with a small drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt).  When the nuts are cool enough to handle, crumble coarsely by hand (or chop, if you prefer—I like the texture of hand crumbled walnuts).  Set aside. 

Place the raisins in a small saucepan with the vinegar and water.  Bring to a simmer.  Simmer gently for five minutes or so (until plump and soft—the liquid may or may not be fully absorbed…this is ok).  Set the raisins aside (don’t drain).

Place the breadcrumbs and olive oil in a small non-stick sauté pan over moderate heat.  Let the crumbs sizzle, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula, until they are golden in color.  Remove from the heat and use a microplaner to grate the garlic over the crumbs.  Give them one last stir.  Transfer the crumbs to a plate.  Set aside.

Dress the salad:  Place the kale in a large bowl along with the walnuts, raisins (with liquid), celery and pecorino.  Season with freshly ground pepper.  Drizzle most of the vinaigrette over and toss.  Use your hands to toss the greens, massaging/rubbing the vinaigrette into the kale a bit as you toss.

Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Let the salad sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.  Even better—if time allows, cover the salad, and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.  When ready to serve, toss again, adding more dressing if necessary.  Mound on individual plates or in a serving bowl and scatter the toasted crumbs over all.

Serves 4 generously.

Note:

  • It would be nice if bunches of kale always weighed the same. Unfortunately this is not the case. I have purchased bunches that weighed barely four ounces…and some that were 2/3 of a pound or more. A third to a half pound seems to be mostly the norm. You will need at least a half pound untrimmed kale to get the 6 oz. (170 g) of trimmed greens needed for this salad. It is best to purchase two bunches (unless they are very large).
  • To prepare the kale, strip out the center rib. Stack the leaves and cut cross-wise in 1/2-inch ribbons. Wash well (in several changes of water) and spin dry. If not using right away, store in an airtight container with a damp paper towel.
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)


Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette

1 T. honey
2 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. Sherry vinegar
1 t. fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. olive oil

In a small bowl whisk together the honey, Dijon, Sherry vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until the salt dissolves, then slowly whisk in the olive oil until you have a nice creamy emulsion. Taste & correct the seasoning.

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