Italian Kale Salad with Crispy Polenta Croutons

Italian Kale Salad with Crispy Polenta Croutons

Sometimes you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to making a mouth-watering kale salad. There’s nothing this tough plant likes more than being worked over, breaking down the fibrous leaves with your fingers to reveal its tender side. 

It’s called massaging, but we’re not talking about a gentle, relaxing rubdown — it’s more like the kind that leaves you wincing in a hurts-so-good kind of way. Once it’s been thoroughly pummeled, this green can compete in the yum department with any of the popular youngsters like arugula or baby spinach.

Italian Kale Salad with Crispy Polenta Croutons

So, grab some massage oil — a.k.a. salad dressing — and get to work. Don’t be afraid to really smoosh the leaves together, pushing them between your thumb and fingers; it’s quite cathartic, especially after a frustrating day at work.

And don’t be alarmed by the enormous bowl of greenery in front of you: after a few minutes of effort the volume will magically shrink down to a manageable portion and the leaves will take on a deep, dark hue. A quick nibble will determine if the bitterness has departed and you’re done, or if a bit more work is required.

Italian Kale Salad with Crispy Polenta Croutons

Kale is a nutritional rockstar — it’s loaded with fiber and has impressive amounts of iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and K to boot. There are several varieties, but for salads I prefer the ruffled curly variety, which is easy to find in the grocery store. You can also use lacinato kale — a.k.a. dinosaur, Tuscan or cavolo nero —  with its long, slender leaves that are tinted blue-green.

This is one veg that I always try to buy organic. While it’s not on the Environmental Working Group‘s “Dirty Dozen” list of foods that “showed high concentrations of pesticides relative to other produce items,” it does earn a mention as one to watch.

Italian Kale Salad with Crispy Italian Croutons
Serves 3
This massaged kale salad tastes like a little piece of Tuscany, with roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, black olives and creamy white beans in a sun-dried tomato and basil vinaigrette, topped off with crispy polenta croutons. I have made it with both curly and lacinato kale (pictured), and prefer the former. You can skip the croutons, but the tasty morsels take almost no effort, especially if you use pre-made polenta. This will make two substantial salads or three smaller ones.
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For the polenta croutons
  1. 8 oz prepared polenta (half a ready-made tube)
  2. 1 tbsp olive oil
  3. 1 tsp Italian seasoning blend
For the sun-dried tomato dressing
  1. 1/2 oz sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
  2. 1 clove garlic, minced
  3. 1 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar
  4. 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped basil
  5. 1 tsp agave nectar (optional)
  6. 2 tbsp olive oil
  7. 1/4 tsp salt
  8. Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the salad
  1. 1 large bunch kale, curly or lacinato
  2. 6 marinated artichoke heart halves, cut in half
  3. 2/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper
  4. 10 black olives, halved
  5. 1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut polenta into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a small bowl. Toss gently with olive oil and Italian seasoning. Spread on baking sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown, turning once halfway through.
  3. While the polenta is cooking, place sundried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak until softened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Drain tomatoes, reserving soaking liquid. Chop tomatoes into small pieces and place in a mini food processor along with garlic, vinegar, basil and agave (if using). Add one tablespoon reserved soaking liquid and pulse until tomatoes are finely chopped. Add olive oil and puree until smooth. If necessary, add more soaking liquid, one tablespoon at a time, to thin. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
  5. Wash kale well and remove stems. Tear into small pieces (if using lacinato kale, cut leaves into ribbons) and place in large bowl. Add the dressing and rub leaves together for two to three minutes until they start to glisten and soften. Take a taste; if the leaves are still bitter or tough, keep massaging for a couple more minutes.
  6. Add artichoke hearts, red pepper, olives and beans. Toss gently to mix.
  7. Arrange on plates and top with warm polenta croutons.
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