Date Night Dinner: Grilled Kale Salad and Niçoise Toasts

After an entire day of laying hardwood floors in Elizabeth’s bedroom, I was pretty wiped out but still hungry for something different for our date night.  Laying on the couch to rest my sore back (if you’ve ever laid hardwoods, you know what I’m talking about!), I flipped through the July issue of Bon Appétit for some inspiration, hoping an idea for something quick and easy but still “knock-your-socks-off” delicious would hit me.

This time I didn’t have to look far.  Every now and then I’ll find a recipe that seems like it was written for the moment and the BA Kitchen column this month had a couple of recipes that looked perfect right off the page: Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums, Niçoise Toasts and for dessert, my own Roasted Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar.

The Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums was too tempting to pass up.  I’ve had this infatuation with kale since I bussed tables at a Ruby Tuesday’s in college.  Back then we used kale as a decoration on the “all you can eat” salad bar and I always assumed that’s why God created kale until I started seeing it pop up on lists of natures “super foods” circulating around the internet.  Turns out this buffet decoration is jam-packed with anticancer chemicals (like it’s cruciferous cousins, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage) and you can actually eat it!

But grilled kale?  That just sounds cool!  Served up on a bed of ricotta cheese and topped with plums marinated in balsamic vinegar with honey & thyme this salad was worth the extra time it took to fire up the grill.  This technique also turns the kale a vivid and rich green color that contrasts so well with the ricotta and plums (or the peaches we used the next day for an encore performance!).

My first experience with kale was using it in a smoothie (go figure!) where I made the mistake of not cutting out the stems.  Even a hearty dose of pineapple juice couldn’t overcome the pungent taste of kale stems and this recipe is no different.  After grilling the kale, we’ll be cutting the stems out!

Niçoise salad, for those of you who don’t know, is a French salad made with mixed vegetables and traditionally topped with tuna and anchovies and served on a bed of lettuce.  In this twist of the traditional version, the Niçoise Toasts are served on crusty bread, open-faced sandwich style.  We used a hearty 7 grain bread from Publix, toasted and rubbed with garlic.  There’s no other cooking involved, unless you don’t have boiled eggs on hand in which case you’ll need to do some boiling!

Rounding out this fresh summertime meal is one of my new favorite desserts when the Chilton county peaches are at their peak.  Roasted Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar combines sweet with just the right amount of savory and is the perfect ending to a light dinner.  While I haven’t tried it, I imagine a dollop of crème fraîche would be an excellent compliment.  I’ve written about this dessert before, but I’ve refined the recipe a bit by adding a splash of white wine to the balsamic vinegar when reducing it to a syrup.

And now for the recipes:

Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums (from July 2012 Bon Appétit)

  • 4 tablespoons Olive Oil (3 for the dressing, 1 tbs to coat kale leaves before grilling)
  • 3 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 4 medium Plums, halved, pitted & thinly sliced
  • Kale leaves (recipe calls for 12-16 leaves, but we used about 6 large ones and it was ample for 2 people)
  • 3/4 cup Ricotta cheese

According to the recipe, this can serve 4-6, so adjust for the servings you’ll be making.  We more or less halved the dressing ingredients and used 2 plums and had ample servings.

You’ll be grilling the kale, so you’ll want to get the charcoal fired up before starting the meal so it will all come together at the same time.

Make the dressing by combining the olive oil, balsamic vinegar thyme, honey, salt & pepper (to taste) in a bowl, then add the plums to coat, then transfer the plums to a plate.  Leave the dressing in the bowl.  You’ll add the kale leaves in after you grill them.

Coat the kale leaves with olive oil and season with some salt.  Then grill the kale over your charcoal fire until slightly charred.  It took me about 2-3 minutes, turning the kale over about halfway.  Then let the kale cool and cut out the thick stems.  Chop up the leaves and put them in the dressing bowl and toss.

This salad is a delight to plate since it’s an aesthetically beautiful dish.  Smear a base of ricotta on a salad plate and season with salt & pepper.  Top with the kale leaves, then add the plums.  Drizzle remaining dressing on top.

Niçoise Toasts  (here’s a link to the recipe on Epicurious in case you have an account and want to save it in your recipe box)

  •  4 Boiled Eggs, peeled & coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup low fat Cottage Cheese
  • Olive oil (1 tablespoon for egg salad, 2 for the vegetables)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped Parsley plus 1 C Parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice (1 for egg salad & 1 for vegetables)
  • 1 tablespoon Capers (recipe says coarsely chopped, but we didn’t)
  • 1 Scallion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 1 C halved Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 C pitted & chopped Kalamata Olives
  • 4oz Tuna packed in olive oil, broken into pieces
  • Rustic Bread, cut into 1/2″ thick slices
  • Garlic clove (for rubbing on the toasted bread)

Preheat the oven and toast the bread slices in the oven while preparing the ingredients.

Combine the eggs, cottage cheese, 1 tbs olive oil, 2 tbs chopped parsley, 1 tbs lemon juice, capers and scallion in a medium bowl.  Mash up with a fork and season with salt & pepper.

Next, toss in a bowl the cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley leaves, remaining olive oil & lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  Gently fold in the tuna so it’s chunky for a better presentation.  We only had tuna packed in water that was pretty mushy and while didn’t have the same aesthetic quality, it was still just as good.

Rub the toasts with the garlic clove.  Spread the egg salad on top of each slice and top with the tuna mix.

Roasted Peaches with Balsamic Vinegar

  • Peaches (1 peach per person, halved and pitted, peeled if you feel like going to the trouble)
  • 1/4 C Balsamic Vinegar
  • Splash of White Wine

Just before sitting down to eat, put the peaches in a roasting pan in the oven at 350° (higher if you’re a fast eater) and put the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan so you’re ready to reduce.  After dinner, and when the peaches are roasted and you can easily insert a fork in the flesh, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil, add a splash (or two) of white wine and reduce to a syrup.  This will take a few minutes.  You want just a drizzle on top of the peaches so watch your reduction, it will quickly go from syrup to saucepan stain if you’re not careful.  Boil just until you can scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon and leave a trail.  Remove from heat and drizzle on top of the peaches.  Serve immediately.  If you have a dessert wine, that’s all the better!

 

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