The Chef's Take: Andrew D'Ambrosi's Kale Panzanella

After being soaked in red wine vinegar for 24 hours, the kale in this Italian panzanella is anything but tough and chewy.

If you’re talking about great seafood in Brooklyn, chances are you’re talking about the fish restaurant Bergen Hill, a snug outpost located in a quiet corner of Court Street in Carroll Gardens. The chef, Andrew D’Ambrosi, cooks out of a kitchen that seems to have been built for a doll, not a fully grown man. It’s about 3 feet by 5 feet and has no oven; it includes four induction burners, one sandwich press and a toy-sized electric oven. (Don’t complain about your kitchen!)

Despite the diminutive size of his kitchen, the flavors at Bergen Hill are big and bold. His hamachi, served sashimi style, gets hit with white soy ponzu, onion, jalapeno and togarashi, and octopus is grilled and served with a caramelized onion puree, farro, Broccolini, raisins and a masa harina vinaigrette.

D’Ambrosi trained at Le Cirque, but he also did a stint at Rouge Tomate, and his cooking reflects that Mediterranean respect for ingredients. His signature calamari is shaved into squiggly ribbons and dressed like a bowl of spaghetti in a bright pomodoro sauce that tastes, despite the chill in the air, a lot like summer.

For his kale panzanella with cherry tomatoes, nicoise olives, cucumbers and ricotta salata, D’Ambrosi marinates the kale for 24 hours in red wine vinegar to break down the leaves and make them less tough and chewy. Before serving, he tosses the kale with chives and dill and dresses it with olive oil and a tomato water vinaigrette. “I’m a firm believer in ‘less is more.’ I try to evoke the flavor of the ingredient, not mask it,” he says. “You don’t have to feel bad about eating my food.” We promise, you won't.

Kale Panzanella
Serves 2-3
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1-2 shallots, minced
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 nicoise olives, halved
1 cucumber, peeled and de-seeded, cut into diamonds
1 slice hearty bread (toasted and sliced into cubes for croutons)
4-5 ounces ricotta salata cheese
For the Tomato Water
4 tomatoes
1 stick celery
1/2 bunch dill
1/8 red onion
Salt
Cheesecloth
Twine

Marinate the Kale: Toss kale with red wine vinegar, shallot, olive oil and salt, and reserve in a covered container in the fridge for 24 hours. This will allow for kale to marinate and breakdown. Season carefully as you will season again before serving.

Make the tomato water:
 Roughly chop all ingredients and place in blender. Pulse until pureed then pour into a cheesecloth lined bowl. Tie the cheesecloth and let it hang above the bowl, for 24 hours in the fridge. Season the resulting water with salt as necessary and reserve.

To plate the salad: Place marinated kale in bowl with the tomatoes, olives, cucumber, and freshly toasted croutons. Season appropriately with salt and pepper, then drizzle on the tomato water to your liking (enough to taste, and gently moisten the croutons). Place the salad in a serving bowl and using a peeler, shave the ricotta salata into strips to garnish the kale.

Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times to Edible Brooklyn. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Queens with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.

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