Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tuscan Black Kale

My last post was about getting ourselves in the spirit for travels to France. I neglected to mention that as part of the same trip, we will also be spending time in Italy, so similarly at home have been trying to learn and immerse ourselves in Italian culture. In addition to studying Italian language, reading guidebooks about Italy, and watching travel shows, we also read Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, and discovered Lidia's Italy and Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth on public television. These cooking shows definitely make us hungry for authentic Italian food!

Just a few days after Will read in Under the Tuscan Sun about ribollita (literally, "reboiled" soup), we saw Ruth Reichl discover Tuscan Black Kale - one of the main ingredients of ribollita on her show. So, when a few weeks later I saw organic Tuscan Black Kale in the market, I brought home a bundle.

Below are three recipes I made using the kale, all of which I recommend. They are easy, tasty, and unique. Kale (and other hearty greens) are so healthy and really stand up well to lots of different cooking preparations. They are also great for taking on the road to a potluck (as I did with the cauliflower recipe), as they keep their form and flavor over time.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Kale and Garbanzos
serves 6-8
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 can garbanzo beans
2 teaspoons stone-ground (or dijon) mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice from 1/2 large lemon, divided
1/2 bunch kale (about 12 leaves)
1/3 cup smoked almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 400.
Mix mustard, oil, and 1/2 of the lemon juice (1/4 of lemon). In a 9x13" baking pan, mix cauliflower, shallot, and garbanzo beans, then toss with dressing. Roast in oven for about 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until cauliflower starts to brown at the tips.
Meanwhile, chiffonade the kale by lining up the leaves along their stems, and then rolling them around the stem into a tight pack and cutting cross-wise.
When roasting is complete, toss kale with hot ingredients and remaining lemon juice, and stir until wilted. If necessary, return to oven for a minute or two just until the kale is coated in dressing and starting to wilt.
Stir in chopped smoked almonds. They are pretty salty, so beware of adding additional salt, but a little extra sprinkling might be necessary. This is good hot or room temperature; I made it about two hours ahead and just left it out before I took it to a friend's house for dinner and we ate it at room temperature.

Kale and Grapes
serves 4
1/2 bunch kale, washed well and cut into bite-sized pieces (or chiffonade as described above)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
15-20 green grapes, halved
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Melt butter in large heavy saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. Add shallot and cook 2-3 minutes until softened but not browning. Add kale pieces/strips and coat in butter mixture. Push greens to exterior edges of pan, and add grapes, cut side down. Sprinkle greens with salt and pepper to taste. Stir lightly, until grapes are softening and greens are wilting. Push ingredients to center of pan, and drizzle vinegar around edges of pan, working quickly to scrape up the pan flavorings before liquid fully evaporates, and incorporating into the kale.

Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately.

Note: all the ingredients can be prepared in advance, as they won't turn brown or shrivel up, but when you are ready to serve this, you'll need to work quickly because it doesn't take long for this to all come together.
The grapes are a really pretty green-on-green contrast, adding a sweet juiciness to the bitter, toothsome kale. The nuts add a bit of richness and crunch to augment the crunch of the cooked but still biting kale. This makes a great alternative to a green salad when you want something hot but still tasty, deep green, and vegetable-laden. I served this with some of the leftover Roast Chicken Provencal.

Broccoli-Kale Salad with Cranberries
serves 4
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets, and stems chopped into bite-sized pieces
about 6 large or 8 smaller leaves black kale
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon pineapple juice (or orange or lemon juice)
1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Layer the broccoli stems, then the florets, then the kale in a steamer basket, and steam, covered, over boiling water until crisp tender, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together dressing ingredients.
Toss dressing and cranberries with steamed vegetables while hot. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I used pineapple juice in this dressing because I had tiny bit leftover from another recipe. But it makes a really nice sweetness that goes well with the tart cranberries and slightly bitter greens. You could also try orange or lemon juice, but it would definitely give it a different balance. I served this with swordfish and spaghetti in a saffron cream sauce.

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