A few years ago, I spent Thanksgiving with some friends in a little rented cabin, where we opened (for reasons too ridiculous to go into) a $100 bottle of wine. Nobody at the table had ever drunk that much money before, so we made some jokes, took some deep breaths, and sipped. After a pause, everyone looked around the table, sighed deeply, and let loose with a "holy shit." Well, everyone except me.
While my friends were gasping over how amazing it was, and lamenting that it would make it that much harder for them to enjoy the cheap stuff, I was just sitting there saying yeah it's good, or well sure it tastes different from other wines, but doesn't every bottle of wine taste different from every other bottle of wine? and other such statements that caused people with discerning palates to roll their eyes.
As much as it should be a point of shame in my culinary identity, I'm totally fine being a cheap date when it comes to certain things. While I don't doubt that some can appreciate the difference, I figure there are some foods where the line between gourmet and grocery store wasn't all that significant. I mean, once you leave the chemical stuff behind and go for real salt, can you really appreciate the trace minerals in salt harvested in one sea versus another? Or does ricotta, the blandest of cheeses, really taste all that much better when it comes fresh-packed in a $10 artisanal bucket instead of an industrial $4 plastic tub? Well for the last one, it turns out it the answer is yes. A lot. Who knew?
Fancy ricotta is not an everyday purchase for me. But for a salad with just a few simple ingredients, I figured I'd seek out the quality stuff. Our local natural store had stopped carrying it, but in a spectacular feat of customer service, they not only allowed me to taste spoonfuls of the two brands of ricotta on the shelf, but then (when the staff person told me that those flavors didn't compare), called their supplier to make an extra stop on their afternoon run and drop off a special case of the best stuff (in related news, I now have lovedreams about New Seasons market). I picked up a tub after the special delivery that night, and made this salad. And it's amazing (and, as an added bonus, the leftover fancy ricotta made for a stellar baked ziti).
I am in awe of the person who thought up this inspired combination. Creamy, cold cheese, smoky kale, and punchy plums, tied together with a thyme-scented vinaigrette. Even setting the kale on fire a few times (I have grilling issues) did nothing to diminish the impact. Altogether, it's like nothing else I've ever tasted. I imagine regular ricotta would be alright in this salad, but the milky-fresh, sweet-tasting version makes it just amazing, and it's sure to go on my list of summertime scene-stealers.
Grilled Kale Salad with Ricotta and Plums
adapted from Bon Appetit
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch kale leaves (curly is especially pretty, but lacinato is also nice)
3/4 cup fresh ricotta
4 medium plums, halved, pitted, thinly sliced
Whisk 3 tablespoons of the oil, vinegar, thyme, and honey in a medium bowl. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Coat kale leaves with the remaining tablespoon of oil (you can brush it on, or drizzle and then shake-shake-shake the leaves between two large bowls) and grill, turning once, until crispy and charred at edges, about 2 minutes (mine lit on fire several times — not sure if this is due to a crappy grill or user error, or whether it's just an inevitable hazard). Transfer to a work surface, and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Remove the large center stems with a knife and discard (just trim the tough ends from smaller, more tender kale stems), and chop/rip into smaller pieces if desired (larger pieces make for a more dramatic presentation, though they're a bit harder to navigate).
Divide ricotta among plates, and top with a scattering of kale leaves and a tumble of plums. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and serve.