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Salad in winter often seems contradictory. Your in-season vegetable selection is minimal at best, and it's too cold to crave anything besides stews and cheesy carbs. However, one can’t subsist on cheesy carbs alone (though I’d be the first one to try), which inevitably leads to the conundrum of how to actually enjoy salad in the winter.
This topic has bugged me over the years, so much so that it inspired my latest cookbook, Salad Seasons. My goal was to figure out how to make salads delicious well beyond the summer months — and especially in the dark, chilly days of January. What I came to realize is that by thinking a little outside of the box, satisfying winter salads can indeed be had. Case in point: this Blackened Broccoli Rabe Caesar, a warm, bold twist on a classic that feels right at home this time of year.
So if one of your New Year's resolutions is, "eat more veggies," you're going to be glad to have this recipe in your back pocket. Bonus: It’s easy to assemble and infinitely adaptable.
How to Winterize Caesar Salad
Romaine rules the Caesar salad, but swapping it out for a roasted vegetable like broccoli rabe instantly makes it more winter-friendly. This isn’t only a seasonal choice but also a cozy one (it’s now a warm salad!). I roast the cruciferous greens on the same sheet pan I use for the croutons to keep things as no-fuss as possible. This both tenderizes the stems and chars the leaves, which lend a toasty texture and flavor to the finished salad. The warm broccoli rabe is naturally bitter, but that’s no problem for a Caesar. The garlicky, anchovy-heavy, Parmesan-bolstered dressing counters the bitterness of the vegetable, making it enjoyable to eat and something you’ll want to make on repeat.
How to Make This Broccoli Rabe Caesar Your Own
Caesar salad is one of those wonderful salads that can seamlessly turn into a meal if you throw in some protein. In my recipe below, I top this broccoli rabe iteration with a jammy egg. The creamy richness of the soft-boiled yolk adds a layer of luxury to forkfuls of this salad. That said, there are so many ways to play here:
Finish the salad with pan-seared steak or salmon, or sautéed shrimp.
Shred some rotisserie chicken, rewarm in the microwave if you’d like, and toss it with the broccoli rabe and dressing before plating.
Drain, rinse, and pat dry a 14-ounce can of chickpeas or white beans. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and divide them between the two sheet pans of broccoli rabe before popping in the oven. They’ll become both chewy and crisp.
If you want to make this salad gluten-free, swap the croutons with toasted walnuts or pistachios, or try extra crispy cubes of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Leave out the Parmesan if you’re going dairy-free with this recipe, and add two teaspoons of chopped capers to the dressing to mimic the cheese’s salty umami-ness.
Can’t find broccoli rabe? Swap in an equal amount of hearty chicory or other green, such as kale, mustard greens, radicchio, savoy cabbage, or a combination. Just tear the leaves before roasting.
Blackened Broccoli Rabe Caesar
4 large eggs plus 1 raw egg yolk, divided
¼ loaf good sourdough or country-style bread, torn into roughly 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
6 oil-packed anchovy filets
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of ½ medium lemon (about 1½ tablespoons)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1½ pounds broccoli rabe (about 2 bunches)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 375°F. Let the eggs rest on the counter to take the chill off from the fridge — this will help prevent them from cracking when boiled.
Place the torn bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss to coat. Spread out in an even layer, transfer to the bottom rack, and bake, tossing halfway through, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice and water.
Mash the anchovies and garlic clove into a rough paste with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, you can very finely chop and mash both together into a paste on a cutting board and transfer to a small bowl, but a mortar and pestle really works best.) Stir in the Dijon, lemon juice, vinegar, and several grinds of black pepper. Add the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir vigorously until combined and emulsified. Stir in the grated Parmesan. Set the dressing aside.
Once the croutons are toasted, transfer them to a bowl or plate. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F. Trim about ½ inch off the ends of the broccoli rabe and cut into roughly 2-inch pieces. Place half on the now-empty baking sheet and the remaining half on another rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle each baking sheet of broccoli rabe with 1½ tablespoons olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Toss to coat, then spread out in a single layer.
Roast, rotating the pans from top to bottom halfway through, until the stems are tender and the leaves are charred in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Boil, uncovered, for 7 minutes for soft-boiled eggs with jammy, but not runny, yolks. Transfer the eggs to the ice bath with a slotted spoon and chill until cold, about 5 minutes.
Drizzle the broccoli rabe with the dressing and toss to coat on the baking sheet. Taste and season with additional black pepper as needed. Divide among individual bowls or plates.
Remove the eggs from the ice bath, then peel and halve lengthwise. Arrange an egg on each salad, top with the croutons, and garnish with lots of grated Parmesan and black pepper.
PHOTO CREDIT: Excerpted from Salad Seasons: Vegetable-Forward Dishes All Year (c) 2023 by Sheela Prakash. Used with permission of the publisher, Rizzoli. Photography by Kristin Teig. All rights reserved.