Kale has a rich, bold flavor, a chewy texture and holds its own with other ingredients in many dishes. Kale is also forgiving in that it is easy to cook but difficult to overcook. Winter kale, grown in cold temps, tends to be sweetest so this is the perfect time to enjoy it.
There are three popular varieties of kale:
* Curly - sturdy, veiny leaves with curly edges and thick stems, the most common variety; you'll find green and purple kinds.
* Tuscan - Also called black or dinosaur kale, it has smaller, more tender leaves than curly; easier to handle and cook.
* Red - curly, frilly leaves with mauve-colored veins and thick stems.
As with most greens, select kale bunches with moist, pliable and deep-green leaves; avoid wilted ones. If rinsed, wrapped in paper towels and sealed in plastic wrap, the leaves will stay moist for two to three days.
I use kale most often as an added ingredient to soups, stews, omelets, etc., for its mild peppery-like taste and the nutritional bonus it affords. In fact, cook up a bunch of kale in boiling salted water, then sauté in garlic and olive oil and keep on hand (or freeze) as a potent ingredient for your dishes - tuck some into your next omelet, toss into your next pasta dish, add to a pot of soup, or make the super-healthy kale "chips" for your next cocktail hour.
Kale: your hearty new best friend!
Jacqui Love Marshall can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hearty Midwinter Minestrone (serves 4)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. sliced pancetta, diced (optional)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 large or 2 medium red onions, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (about a handful) dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms, chopped
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 15-oz. can chickpeas
1 small bunch purple or green kale, stems removed or leaves shredded
1 cup whole wheat fusilli or other small pasta
1/4 cup shredded Pecorino Romano cheese, as garnish
1. Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy, 5-6 minutes.
2. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves to the pot, season with salt and pepper and cook until the veggies are tender, 6-7 minutes.
3. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, stock and 2 cups water to the pot. Bring to a bubble.
4. Add the chickpeas, kale and pasta to the pot. Cook until the pasta is al dente according to package directions (the kale will be done at this point too). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Garnish the soup with the Pecorino Romano and serve.
Kale "Chips" (makes 24)
12 large Tuscan kale leaves, rinsed, dried, cut lengthwise in half with center ribs and stems removed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Toss kale with oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Arrange leaves in single layer on 2 baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 30-35 minutes. (Note: Flat leaves will bake faster than wrinkled ones.) Transfer leaves to rack to cool.