Friday night dinners at Casa Davidson circa the mid-2000s were a blur. Be it a football or basketball game night where everyone fended for themselves, a Papa Murphy's pizza or a Costco lasagna type of night, times were a busy and moving quite literally a mile a minute.
Even in the busiest of times with an ever-changing Friday dinner menu, there was always one constant: Caesar salad. We ate Caesar salads in the Davidson household so often, my mom bought Caesar fixins – croutons, Parm, romaine and dressing – in bulk from Costco. Cheesy, tangy and full of crunchy croutons, it was consistently a delicious and quick side dish to throw on the dinner table that always put a smile on our face.
Having it as frequently as I did growing up, it's easy to understand why I have such an affinity for it now. While I must admit I'm still partial to the classic verson of Caesar using bottled (yes, bottled – *gasp* !) dressing, my love for Caesar salad is pure and true, loving any and all variations of the classic salad. Whether it's served with charred romaine, adorned with whole fresh anchovies on top (my fav) or in its classic form with a lemon wedge on the side, I am a diehard Caesar salad lover.
While it's a huge departure from my guilty pleasure bottled dressing favorite, lately I've been really feeling Caesar salads made with meaty, bitter kale. There's just something about an extra zesty, anchovy and garlic forward dressing that can really stand up to a sturdy green like kale. Which is why I decided it was about time to put my good ol' bottled Caesar on the bench just this once and take a stab at a homemade kale Caesar salad.
First things first: let's talk about this homemade dressing I whipped up. No offense, bottled dressing, but this homemade version that literally took minutes to pulse together in a food processor is in a whole different league of its own. With lemon zest and juice, loads of fresh garlic, salty Parm, savory Worcerstershire, tangy Dijon and olive oil, it's a punchy, creamy dressing with no shortage of flavor.
Next up, we have homemade croutons in this bad boy. While you can use any stale bread of your liking, my recipe used some crusty ciabatta that made for the most marvelous crouton. And if the words "homemade crouton" intimidate you and you'd rather spring for a bulk bag of croutons from Costco (no judgment, of course), think again, because these golden brown, garlicky bread morsels come together in less than 5 minutes and will change your life.
*Ok Google, remind me to write a strongly heartfelt thank you letter to the intelligent individual who invented salad croutons.*
Fellow Caesar salad lovers, rejoice with this delightful spin-off. And if kale is not your thing? No prob! Whip up the dressing and the homemade croutons to dress the greens of your choice and it will without a doubt be a Caesar to remember.
Kale Caesar Salad
In a food processor, puree anchovy filets, 1/4 cup Parm, 2 garlic cloves lemon zest and juice, Worcestershire and Dijon. Slowly stream in about 1/4 of oilve oil until the dressing is emulsified. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a jar or small dish and set aside.
Coat a large skillet with olive oil – about 1/4 cup – and heat over medium heat. Add remaining whole garlic cloves and crushed red pepper flakes to oil and cook for 1-2 minutes until garlic is fragrant, stirring frequently. Remove garlic from oil and discard. Add bread cubes to oil and cook for 3-5 minutes until oil has absorbed into the the cubes and they are nice and toasty. Remove from heat and set aside.
Add chopped kale to a large serving bowl followed by croutons and half of dressing. Toss salad, adding more dressing if desired. Top with more grated or shaved Parm.