A kale salad may sound cliché, but kale is easy to love these days. This vibrant green will stay fresh far longer than most other lettuces. Wrapped in a damp towel in a plastic bag, kale will keep at least a week in the refrigerator crisper. The rugged leaves can stand up to bold, assertive vinaigrettes and, because of its sturdy texture, kale can be dressed several hours ahead.
In this recipe, the kale is paired with creamy cannellini beans, a fast-cooking variety of dry beans, a good staple to keep on hand. All the dry beans need is an hour of gentle simmering in a big pot, so make a double or triple batch to use through the week. You can substitute other beans in this recipe — white beans, navy beans or garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), for example. Canned beans, though not as firm, will also work fine in a pinch. Creamy and satisfying, beans make a perfect foil to the kale.
Crisped pancetta pieces give the humble duo a lift. Pancetta is cured Italian pork belly seasoned with garlic, black pepper, juniper and thyme; it sizzles up to be salty and crisp. Buy pancetta in hunks if possible. You can find it in butcher shops, co-ops and the meat cases of grocery stores. (The local Red Table Meats makes a great one.) Pancetta is also widely available, presliced, in plastic packages.
Substitute bacon, salt pork or Canadian bacon, if you don’t have pancetta on hand. The point here is to render a little fat to whisk into the vinaigrette while crisping up the meat for flavor and crunch. This makes a hearty lunch or a light spring dinner paired with cheese and hunk of crusty bread, simple pasta, or pizza, and a glass of chilled white wine.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Salad of Cannellini, Pancetta and Kale
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: In this humble salad, kale’s rough leaves are tamed by the warm vinaigrette of rendered fat and fresh lemon juice, kissed with honey. Rather than removing the stiff center rib from the leaves as advised by most recipes, I simply chop the rib finely. This salad hits all marks — crunchy kale, creamy beans, and salty, crisp chunks of pancetta — a light, satisfying spring meal. If you don’t have pancetta, substitute bacon, salt pork or Canadian bacon. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 1/2 c. cooked cannellini beans or a 15-oz. can of beans, drained (see below)
• 1 bunch dino or lacinato kale
• Flake or kosher salt
• 3 tbsp. sunflower or vegetable oil, divided
• 4 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/2-in. cubes (see Note)
• 1 to 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar, or more to taste
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, or more to taste
• 1/2 tsp. teaspoon honey, or more to taste
• Ground black pepper, to taste
To cook cannellini beans: Put 1 cup of dry beans into a medium-sized saucepan and add water to cover the beans about 4 inches over the top of the beans. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour.
To prepare the salad: Fold the kale leaves along the central rib and with a sharp knife remove the rib and chop it fine. Then slice the leaves into coarse ribbons. Toss all the kale into a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon oil and massage, kneading it for a minute to soften the kale.
In a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring every so often until crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate.
Pour the pancetta fat into a small heatproof bowl, whisk in the lemon juice, mustard and honey, to taste. Toss enough of the dressing over the kale to lightly coat. Toss in the beans and any of the leftover dressing and adjust the seasonings with pepper and more salt. Scatter the crisped pancetta over it all.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 290 Fat 23 g
Sodium 200 mg Carbohydrates 14 g
Saturated fat 7 g Added sugars 1 g
Protein 7 g Cholesterol 20 mg
Dietary fiber 6 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, ½ medium-fat protein, 4 fat.