Complex, layered, and rich, this romaine and kale Caesar salad with Parmesan-crusted butternut squash “croutons” and garlicky sunflower seed Caesar dressing embraces all the best things about the transition to fall cooking.
Embracing the In-Between
This time of year sparks disagreement about whether it’s really still summer or if we should trade tomatoes for pumpkins. But there’s no need to choose – things are fantastic just as they are. The in-between season welcomes salads and roasted vegetables equally. Windows are open, crickets hum outside, and my counter is piled with winter squash, apples, and tomatoes. Besides, winter squash has been in season for weeks.
The Best Kale Caesar
This salad is a fall-ish play on a traditional Caesar. It trades the croutons for golden roasted butternut squash cubes tossed with flaky sea salt, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. When golden with crisp edges, the squash cubes are tossed with Parmesan and roasted again briefly, allowing the nutty cheese to meld with the squash or melt off the edges into tiny Parmesan crisps.
The greens are a mix of Lacinato kale and romaine, and are tossed with an easy, but wonderfully rich and creamy, sunflower seed Caesar dressing with just a little punch from anchovies and garlic. The salad is finished with toasted sunflower seeds, more dressing, crispy Parmesan-butternut cubes, and just a bit more parm crumbled over top. As you might imagine, it all makes for an incredibly rich salad; one robust enough to eat by itself or alongside a simple protein.
This recipe lends itself well to some of the firmer winter squash varieties like hubbard, or green or orange kabocha. I went with butternut squash here and liked the silky texture.
- 6 tablespoons raw, hulled sunflower seeds
- 2 medium cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest reserved for salad
- 6 oil-packed anchovy fillets
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 - 4 tablespoons water, as needed
- 1 small to medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules or garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan, crumbled
- 1 bunch Lacinato kale leaves, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- Lemon zest (reserved from dressing)
- 8 large romaine leaves, stems removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
- Freshly ground pepper
- Sea salt
The night ahead, soak sunflower seeds in cold water. Set in the fridge if it's very hot or they'll be soaking for more than 24 hours.
When ready to make the dressing, toss garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for 10 - 15 minutes.
Drain sunflowers seeds and scrape into the pitcher of a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Add lemon juice and garlic mixture, anchovies, and Dijon. Pulse to reduce, scraping sides as needed. With blender or food processor running, add olive oil and blend until quite smooth. Mixture should be thin enough to just drip off the edge of a spoon - drizzle in water until you've achieved the right consistency.
Dressing will keep well sealed in the fridge for 5 days.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, toss squash with oil, garlic granules, red pepper flakes, and sea salt.
Divide squash between two rimmed baking sheets, ensuring each cubes has plenty of room. Roast 20 minutes, carefully flip each cube, and roast 10 minutes more. In the same medium mixing bowl, carefully toss roasted cubes with Parmesan crumbles until nicely coated. Spread back on baking sheets, and roast 5 minutes more, or until cheese is golden and bubbling.
Set aside 5 minutes to cool, then use a spatula to scrape up squash and any golden bits of cheese.
Set a small skillet over medium heat. Add sunflower seeds, and, stirring often, toast just until the seeds begin to take on a golden hue. Set aside.
To assemble salad, toss to combine greens in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons dressing and lemon zest, and toss vigorously, until every leaf is coated. Add toasted sunflower seeds, and toss slightly. Just before serving, add roasted squash and Parmesan buts, drizzle with 1 - 2 tablespoons more dressing, and finish with shaved Parmesan, several twists ground pepper, and sea salt if needed. Serve immediately.
Salad will keep for a day or two covered in the fridge, but its texture is most perfect right after its tossed.