While talking food with a friend recently, he drew a definitive line in the sand when he said, "I’m pretty sure I’m not having the same love affair with kale that everyone else seems to be having." I sensed that he hasn’t spent enough time with kale, under the right circumstances, or in the best company. After all, he’s a guy who loves the bitter punch of broccoli rabe on his roast pork sandwich or piled on a crusty, soft roll underneath shards of sharp provolone.
Those rough and tumble greens, kale and rabe, hail from the same cruciferous family, so it seems clear that he just needs to get to know kale better. And maybe, so do you.
I know he’s not alone because I’ve seen the sunken shoulders of defeat on neighbors at my CSA share pickup as they extract from their boxes at least two enormous bunches of kale — knowing that mounds of it from last week are still stuffed in the crisper getting uncrisper as the days pass. They’re wondering if they can plant it in their window boxes. I’m certain of it.
Here’s a recipe that makes quick work of unwieldy tufts of hardy kale and is also an excellent salad alternative for a pizza night side dish. There’s none of the blanching, or pulling of stems from leaves, or long braising often associated with cooking this green. After several swift chops and a short sauté, the tough stems and stiff leaves soften into garlicky kale like you’ve never known it.
Though tiny strips of salami add a salty gusto to the mix, you can omit it with no love lost. The half-teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes makes the recipe live up to its name, so use less to tame the flames if you must. Any variety of kale — curly, Lacinto (a.k.a. dinosaur), Redbor — works nicely here. In fact, go ahead, show that CSA box who’s boss and use all three varieties bestowed upon you…again.
Leftovers make a great lunch straight from the fridge; work perfectly tossed in with hot pasta, Pecorino and a few extra pours of olive oil; stand in for that broccoli rabe as a terrific sandwich topper; or reheat easily as a reincarnated side dish for anything from roasted meats to grilled fish.
Kale crops everywhere are awaiting their turn at your table and singing “I can make you love me if you don’t.” Start the affair with this recipe.
This thin crust pizza recipe is amazingly quick and we love it topped with prosciutto and peppery arugula. Paired with Fiery Kale it's a weeknight meal packed with healthful greens.
Fiery Kale with Garlic and Olive Oil
Serves 4 to 6
2 medium bunches (about 1 1/2 pounds/738 grams) of kale, any variety
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 ounces (59 grams) hard salami (6 or 7 deli slices), quartered and cut into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the kale well and shake it over the sink or pat it in a clean kitchen towel. Don’t worry about getting it bone dry since the water will help it cook. Trim and discard the ends of the kale stems. If there are particularly thick, tough sections of stem, snap them off and throw them away. Otherwise, leave the stem intact. Slice the kale into strips, roughly 1/2-inch thick, across the leaves. If any are especially wide, cut them in half lengthwise first.
Heat the oil in large, wide high-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, salami, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the piquant aroma of the salami gives your nose a little pinch, about 1 minute. Nudge the heat up to medium high, add the kale and cook, stirring often until the leaves turn from leathery stiff to shrunken satiny soft strands of deep, dark green, about 7 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately, either straight from the sauté pan or on a platter.
• The Sauté Pan: The more surface area your pan has, the more efficient and effective the sauté. A 5 1/2 quart sauté pan is ideal for cooking big piles of greens, but if you don’t have one, just add the chopped kale to a large skillet in batches, waiting for each to shrivel down in the heat of the sauté.)
Tara's new book Choosing Sides includes 130 fabulous recipes for side dishes to complement any entrée and complete meals for every occasion. → Find it at an independent bookshop, local library, or on Amazon: Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal
(Images: Tara Mataraza Desmond)