In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
I’m aware that nobody’s eyes brighten at the idea of kale salad anymore. I’m also aware that the mention of kale itself is enough to elicit immediate thought-wandering. What’s more, I know most people settling into their seats at Osteria Savio Volpe – the Fraserhood’s heavily lauded Italian restaurant – have visions of pasta dancing in their heads, not green things. Call me unoriginal (which actually constitutes a terrific burn in this part of town), but when I’m nestled into my booth at Savio sipping a neon Aperol spritz in-between bites of luscious pasta and forkfuls of meltingly tender meatballs…I want that kale salad.
I want the punchy garlic undercurrent; I want the crunch of oil-kissed breadcrumbs; I want the lemony kick of the dressing; and I suppose I want the actual kale, too. A true creature of habit, I want the exact back-to-back bite combo of meatball-kale salad-pasta on repeat forever, spaced between generous sips of perfectly bitter cocktails. I want it so much that this kale salad – a tribute to my go-to ‘verdure’ (vegetable) order at Savio – winds up on my dinner menu often enough that I can vouch for its integrity in-between bites of roast chicken, veal parm, braised meats, and so forth. Adapted from a dish created by my forever idol, Deb Perelman, this recipe has been tweaked to highlight the ingredients found in Savio’s signature salad.
A quick(ish) note on buying and preparing kale: this recipe calls for Tuscan (aka lacinato, aka dinosaur, aka why-does-this-vegetable-have-so-many-monikers) kale, which is characterized by bumpy but otherwise flat leaves (flat meaning ‘not curly’, in this context) that range from a dark green to almost purplish-black. Tuscan kale is more tender and texturally-palatable than curly kale, which in my opinion is not ideally suited for raw applications such as salad. Additionally, you’ll note that I’ve been quite prescriptive in my directions for cutting the kale, mostly because it constitutes nearly the entirety of the salad and the “ribboning” of it is part of what I find so texturally pleasing about this dish. Trust me, once you’ve gotten through the grunt work of prepping 2 heads of shredded kale, the rest comes together in a snap!
Kale Salad, Savio-Style
Ingredients (Serves 4-6):
-2 large bunches Tuscan kale
– 1 large lemon (at least)
– Good olive oil (~3 tbsp total)
– ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
– 1 clove of garlic, finely grated or minced
– 1/3 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (or sub equal amount of fresh parmesan)
– Sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
– Handful of toasted pine nuts, optional and not in keeping with Savio’s version but delightful nonetheless
Start by gently rinsing the kale leaves and patting completely dry. Use a small sharp knife to cut out the thick “rib” from each leaf (the part that comprises the entire stem) and discard. Cut the leaves lengthwise into ½-inch sections – you should be left with LOTS of long, skinny strips of kale. If your kale leaves were unreasonably long (more than a foot or so), cut your strips in half to shorten them. Stack up several strips at a time, roll them up as neatly as you can, then cut very thin ribbons of kale, starting at one of the “open” ends of the roll. Repeat until all of the strips have been stacked, rolled, and cut. This technique is called ‘chiffonade’ and can easily be looked up for online visual support if you’re at all confused. Once done, you should have ~5 generous cups of finely shredded kale. Place the kale into a medium bowl and, using your hands, gently massage 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice into the ribbons. Let the kale sit while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Heat a small pan over medium heat. Add 2 tsp olive oil, panko crumbs, and garlic to the hot pan and stir quickly to combine. Keep stirring and tossing until the panko has become golden and the garlic is sizzling – this happens fairly quickly and, by the same token, burns fairly quickly, so stay vigilant! Set onto a small plate to cool. Toss the kale ribbons with 1 tbsp olive oil, a good pinch of sea salt, and a generous grind of black pepper. Toss in the pecorino and pine nuts (if using). Stir in the cooled breadcrumbs, then taste and adjust anything that you think needs adjusting. I like my salads fairly well-dressed so I usually add in another splash of olive oil; I also like them bright, so another squeeze of lemon is usually also called for. You decide what you think needs to be amped up for your own enjoyment, and – once the flavours have been tweaked to your liking – serve immediately.