I had a lovely afternoon yesterday. My sister and her daughter took me out on the town as a belated birthday present. We had matinée tickets to The Little Prince at Lookingglass Theater, and beforehand we dined at Bar Toma, a restaurant just steps off of Michigan Avenue. We were “ladies who lunch,” if just for the day.
The menu at Bar Toma includes antipasti, salads, a few sandwiches, and several pizzas baked quickly in a wood-burning oven. My sister briefly glanced at the menu, and suggested that I pick out a couple of things to share and order for the both of us.
This was a bold move on her part. She’s not picky, but she tends to stick to the standards on a menu. I, on the other hand, am a little more…adventurous when it comes to eating. I’ve willingly eaten crickets and worms. I’m in to offal. And I’m not afraid to order food from the seediest looking street vendor in a foreign country. I just want an authentic experience!
I asked her if she was sure, and then placed our order with our server. One Kale Salad, coming up! Maura and Kaia had never had kale before, which we discussed briefly before I ordered. I knew that the kale wouldn’t be an issue because they’re both salad-loving people. The salad arrived to the table looking fresh and delicious, the kale left in large pieces and fading from dark green at the edges to vibrant purple in the center. There was a soft-boiled egg quartered and laid over the top, and garlicky, crunchy breadcrumbs generously spooned over. We dug in and all three of us loved it.
Several bites into the salad I revealed that the dressing was an anchovy vinaigrette. The world stood still for a split second, before my niece’s chewing mouth fell into a frown. She was pretty disgusted, and I was pretty amused. If either one of them had seen that description on the menu, that salad wouldn’t have ended up in our bellies, much less on our table.
Anchovies get a bad wrap. Sure, as whole fillets they look totally prehistoric and disgusting. I get that. Even I’m weirded out by whole anchovies! But when finely chopped, they melt into whatever you’re combining them with, adding flavor through salt and their natural oil. If you’ve eaten a real, from scratch Caesar Salad, then you’ve eaten anchovies, because they’re a big component in Caesar dressing, too. See? No biggie! Anchovies are delicious!
So, we had a lovely meal, and both Kaia and Maura came away anchovy lovers, even if they’re not ready to admit it. I’m thinking of printing them up t-shirts that say “ANCHOVY LOVER”, with a huge whole fillet right underneath, but I suspect that they would never get worn. That’s okay. Down the road, if either of them considers eating something that contains anchovies, then my work here is done.
If you would like to ease into the flavor of anchovies, give this salad a shot. It’s a riff off of what we ate for lunch, and it’s darn good as a main course, or along side grilled chicken or shrimp.
Roughed Up Kale Salad
10 ounces red new potatoes, washed and quartered
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
3.5 ounces fresh kale (about 1/2 a bunch), cut roughly into 2 in. pieces, washed and dried
4 dried apricots, cut into strips
2 radishes, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup roasted pistachios
Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least an inch. Season the water with salt. Cook over high heat until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
In a saute pan, cook the breadcrumbs and butter over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Season with a bit of salt while they’re still warm, and remove from pan.
In the same saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, minced shallot, and chopped anchovy fillets and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the shallot is translucent and the garlic is very fragrant. Transfer to a small food processor or to a pestle and mortar. Add the lemon juice and dijon mustard and process until it is emulsified, but still a bit chunky from the shallot and garlic.
Pour the warm dressing over the kale and use your hands to squeeze and coat it in the dressing. This is often called “massaging” the kale, but what you really need to do is rough it up a little so that it softens to a more appealing texture. After it’s been crunched together for a minute, and the leaves are all well coated, leave the salad to rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and the leaves will continue to tenderize.
Add the cooked potatoes, sliced apricots and radishes, and pistachios and toss to coat. Give it a taste and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice, or olive oil as needed. The flavors tend to get lost in the kale, so you will likely use more salt and pepper than you would think necessary. Just before serving, top with the toasted breadcrumbs.
Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish.