Cooking Vegetarian with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a blog post trying to recreate the “ubiquitous kale salad” from one of my favorite Boston restaurants, Alden and Harlow.  While my version was pretty good, it still paled in comparison to Alden and Harlow’s creation.  Luckily, I finally got my chance to learn how to make it this past week at a sold-out vegetarian cooking class with Michael Scelfo of Alden and Harlow hosted by Formaggio Kitchen.

Normally vegetarian cooking doesn’t get me super excited.  However, Michael Scelfo takes forgotten or common vegetables (like kale, broccoli, or carrots) and turns them into star dishes, bursting with texture and flavor.  Trust me, you won’t miss the meat in any of these!

Scelfo started the class by talking about Alden and Harlow and his original concept for the restaurant.  At the time, he was trying to eat healthier and cook with more vegetables at home with his wife and three children.  He focused on making simple dishes with good ingredients and new flavor profiles.  He then took this concept of home cooking and elevated and refined it for Alden and Harlow.  If you follow his instagram feed (@mscelfo) you’ll see all the mouth-watering, restaurant-worthy dishes he cooks at home for his lucky family (#dinnerathome).

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His restaurant has been wildly successful and he’ll be opening his second restaurant, Waypoint, in a few months.  One of my favorite things about Alden and Harlow is how often Scelfo rotates the menu, creating new dishes based on what is available and seasonal locally.  However, there are a few old-standbys that have been on the menu since the early days and they just happen to be vegetarian!

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The first dish of the night was the highly anticipated “ubiquitous kale salad”.   First raw kale is mixed with raw, thinly sliced fennel.  The salad is then elevated by adding a rich, creamy dressing of creme fraiche, pistachios, lemon and honey and then topping it with crispy fried kale (everything is better fried, right?).  The outcome was as delicious as I remembered and I can’t wait to make it at home!

 

The next dish he taught us is a complete surprise to the palate: Pickled corn pancakes with buttermilk, maple, shishito, and popcorn.  This dish was based on corn pancakes his family made growing up but  elevated and punched up a few notches.

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This creation is the epitome of sweet and savory; the sweet corn pancake and maple is balanced out perfectly by the whimsical popcorn topping and shishito peppers.  He makes a sweeter version with fruit for brunch.

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The final dish he demonstrated was charred broccoli with butternut squash hummus, bianco sardo and smoked cashews.  The hummus is made with roasted butternut squash and smoked cashews as a base.  While it may be hard to smoke cashews at home (due to strict Boston area fire rules) the rest of the butternut squash hummus is relatively straightforward and versatile.  Scelfo encouraged us to experiment and change up the dishes depending on availability of ingredients or taste preference.

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By the end of the class I was surprisingly full from all the delicious vegetables…and maybe slightly tipsy from the plentiful Montenidoli Tradizionale wine (thanks Formaggio Kitchen!).  Scelfo really proved that vegetarian cooking can be both flavorful, innovative, and easy to do at home.  Kale salad anyone????:)

 

Kale Salad with Pistachio Dressing

There’s a rumor that kale is on its way out.  Restaurants have been overwhelmed by kale this past year- kale chips, kale salad, pasta and soups laden with kale- it’s everywhere!    And it’s only a matter of time before everyone tires of this healthy leafy vegetable in favor of another fleeting food trend.

In the meantime, a new amazing restaurant in Cambridge, Alden & Harlow, has ironically created “the ubiquitous kale salad” to feature on its menu.  If you live in the Boston area and haven’t been to Alden & Harlow yet, run (don’t walk) there and immediately order this salad (and beef neck, and grilled clams, and onion dip, and the secret burger…and don’t forget the drinks!).  There is nothing “ubiquitous” about it.  The salient feature of the salad is a creamy pistachio dressing, which dresses crispy kale and is then topped with additional pistachios and thinly sliced fennel.  While it appears quite simple, it is unlike any salad I have ever had.  I’ve had cravings for it so often that I finally had to try to create my own version!  My version strayed a little from the Alden & Harlow salad by adding quickly seared brussel sprout leaves and cranberries (instead of fennel) but feel free to add your own accoutrements. 

 While this pales in comparison to the original “ubiquitous kale salad”, it definitely satsifies my craving when I can’t make the trek for the real thing at Alden & Harlow (or they don’t have any reservations!).

Pistachio Dressing:

1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp honey
1 garlic clove (can add more if you want it to be more garlicky)
salt and pepper to taste

 

Place all of the above in a food processor and blend until thoroughly pureed.  Add extra water if too thick, or extra pisctachios if too thin.  Use to dress chopped kale (or greens of your choice but pick something hearty to stand up to the bold, creamy dressing) and top with additional pistachios and toppings of your choosing.