An Outdoor Summer Meal — Kale Caesar Salad Al Fresco

Lingering summer days inspire Sheila McGrory-Klyza to host an informal dinner outdoors featuring Kale Caesar Salad.
By Sheila McGrory-Klyza

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The finest summer meal, for me, celebrates our garden, which is at its peak right about now.  Since it’s on the small side, I usually need to supplement with the produce of other local growers and producers, so the meal becomes a local foods fête in the best sense of the word. When the weather cooperates, I like to eat under our pergola, which feels like an airy room framed on one side by the garden, and on the other by a row of raspberry bushes, with grape vines, wisteria, and weeping larch entwining overhead. If asked to visualize a happy place, I would put dinner under our pergola at the top of my list.

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We’ve had a string of hot, steamy days here in Vermont and sunlight still lingers close to 9 pm, so we hardly notice that the days are getting shorter. Winter seems a long way away. We invite some friends over for a casual dinner al fresco. For an aperitif, we serve one of Chris’s favorite hot weather beverages from Marseille—Pastis (one can’t go all local all the time).

He performs his little magic trick by pouring water into the glass, transforming the amber liquid into a milky, pale green.

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For those of us who aren’t fans of the anise taste of Pastis, wine, beer, and iced hibiscus tea are other options. With our drinks, we nibble on fat, green olives and a Vermont Tomme, whose center oozes out within seconds of cutting into the rind, like summer fondue.

I love a good burger on the grill this time of year, especially when it’s made from all local ingredients:  grass-fed beef topped with smoked cheddar and a thick slice of an organic tomato right from the garden, all stacked on a bakery bun. A burger doesn’t get any better than this.

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It’s the antithesis of the fast food fake-burger our country has exported to the world.

We serve this mother of all burgers with my new favorite summer salad—the Kale Caesar, ubiquitous now on restaurant menus. I was a latecomer to kale, but I’m now one of its devoted following, thanks to its hearty flavor, nutritional value, and versatility. For the salad, I use two kinds of kale that have been happily growing amidst the weeds in my garden, Lacinato and a beautiful greenish purple one that I don’t know the name of.

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I make the salad just like I would make a regular romaine Caesar, with a generous squeeze of lemon, quality croutons, shaved Parmesan, and a light (eggless), garlicky dressing.  I toss all these ingredients together with ribbons of kale and it is outstanding, handily nudging regular Caesar Salad out of position in my kitchen.

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For dessert, we have homemade lavender ice cream with fresh raspberries, made with lavender from my herb garden. The ice cream starts to melt in the heat as soon as I scoop it out. We all savor it quickly before it melts away, not unlike these long, warm summer evenings themselves.

Kale Caesar Salad
 
You can make this salad with your favorite bottled Caesar dressing, but this eggless dressing is quick and easy to whip up. Quality Parmesan and croutons make all the difference.
Author:
Recipe Type: lunch, light dinner, side
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 8 large kale leaves, washed and dried
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 4 anchovy fillets, packed in oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups quality croutons
  • 1½ ounce piece of Parmesan, shaved into thin pieces
Instructions
  1. Remove the ribs from the kale leaves and cut the leaves into 1-inch wide ribbons (discarding ribs).
  2. In a large bowl, toss the ribbons with half the lemon juice and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. In a blender, combine the rest of the lemon juice, the garlic, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, mustard, olive oil, and pepper and mix until well blended.
  4. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss so the ribbons are well coated.
  5. Just before serving, add the croutons and Parmesan shavings and gently toss with your hands.
 

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