Sunday, January 3, 2010

In Praise of Kale

Lacinata, Tuscano, Dinosaur, Nero, just a few of the many names given to this beautiful deep dark green Kale. About twelve years ago while working as a private chef, I found this type of kale at some Boston grocery stores. It had such a rich green color and smooth but textured leaf, that I couldn't resist trying some. Once I did, I never turned back to regular kale. In the decade or so that has followed, I must admit that I have bought the standard curly leaf kale only one time (and that was at a fabulous Caribbean market where the bunch was bright and springy and larger than my torso).

Lacinata Kale is not as tough as regular kale, so it doesn't need to be cooked as long, and I can only assume that it's darker color means that it has more nutrients, so both of those things make it a win as a nutrition source. But, mostly, I would say that it is just delicious and easy to cook with and makes a great addition to stir fries, fritattas, pasta sauce, soups, or anything else you'd like to add greens to. I sometimes finely chop up a little extra and keep it in the fridge so I can grab a handful and throw it into a meal that I have to cook in minutes for the hungry kids pulling at my clothes when they can't wait for dinner.

Recipes I regularly make with kale:
Simple red lentil soup with sneaky greens (recipe is in New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven, which will be available in Feb '10)
Fritatta with caramelized onions and kale
Ginger rice with kale, tofu and peanuts
kale cooked with spicy tomato sauce, vinegar and boiled sweet plantain

The list could go on and on, but here is one special dish with lacinata kale I made for New Year's Dinner 2009/2010. We stayed in this year and had a quiet night with just our family. The dish is great with any kind of pasta, and the onions and kale are delicious without the sausage for a vegetarian option.

Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi, sautéed Kale and Turkey Sausage

I didn't really follow a recipe for this gnocchi, which I know is not comfortable for most people, but here is an approximation of what I did.

1. To make sweet potato gnocchi, bake or boil 2 large sweet potatoes. peel and mash immediately. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large pot bring at least 8 cups of water to a rolling boil and salt well.

3. add one egg, to the sweet potatoes, 1/2 cup romano or parmesan cheese, and 1/2 to 1 cup flour, pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

4. Gently knead the dough together to get a tacky but not sticky dough. knead as little as possible or you will get tough gnocchi. Start with 1/2 cup flour and add more as needed.

5. Cut the dough into 4 sections. roll each into a thin rope. slice into 1 inch pieces. With one well floured hand and a fork, roll each piece of dough between your thumb and the fork tines to make grooves in the outside of the gnocchi and place them on a lightly floured dish towel on a sheet pan.

6. boil gnocchi immediately until they float to the top of the pot. test for done-ness, and then drain. To cook gnocchi in advance, cook as instructed above directly after you make them. Set them on a well greased sheet pan to cool. When you are ready to serve the gnocchi, reheat them in boiling water for a few minutes until heated through, then toss with other ingredients and serve.

For the rest of the dish:
finely slice kale

Saute onions in olive oil until they start to look tender, about 2 minutes. Add kale, season with salt and pepper and saute for a few minutes more until kale is tender and deep green. Add a splash of water, not more than 2 tablespoons to the pan to help the kale cook through a bit.Remove kale from the pan.

Note on buying meat:
We don't eat a lot of meat in our house, but when we do, I try and buy sustainably raised meats. This means that the animals were raised in an humane environment, not on a feed lot. They were allowed to be outside as much as they wanted, graze on the earth, and were not administered antibiotics or growth hormones, or given feed with animal by-products. I try to buy meat from local farmers through our local farmers' markets, but I am not always able to do that. Since it is winter and our farmer's markets are only open twice a month, I went to the new whole foods and bought a few fresh turkey sausages there for a special meal.

To cook the sausage:
slice into half inch sections and cook in a small amount of oil in a hot pan. let them brown well on one side before turning over to cook on the other side. Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam. If you need to cook the pieces in two batches that is fine.

To complete the dish:
Toss the sautéed kale and onions into the pan with the sausage, add the hot (or reheated) gnocchi, toss a few times until everything is hot. Serve and enjoy!

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