I'd like to introduce you to Jean Ann Van Krevelen, author and edible gardener extraordinaire. I met her at the Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago when she and co-host Amanda interviewed me for their podcast "Good Enough Gardening." She gave me a copy of her book, Grocery Gardening, and it's a must for both the garden shed and the kitchen. Whether the topic is planting, purchasing or preparing it's one of those books that will have you saying, "I can do that." I highly recommend it for both gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
I have long espoused the virtues of growing and cooking kale…frankly, I am nuts about this particular vegetable. First of all, it is insanely easy to grow...just sow the seeds in late winter and as soon as the ground warms a bit, little green sprouts will emerge. If you have cool damp springs, you likely won't have to do much else. In other areas, keep fairly well watered to produce tender greens. In all regions, the plant benefits from soil that's been amended with compost and a bit of fish emulsion fertilizer once a month or so.
Unfortunately, many people aren't sure how to prepare kale. I suspect it is due to the sense that it should be cooked like a traditional "green". And while kale can be prepared this way, it is far more versatile than tradition might dictate. Personally, I like to think of it as the ultimate "sneaky vegetable". Its flavor is so mild that it adapts to almost any recipe. I have used it in pasta dishes, meatloaf, meatballs, shepherd's pie...the possibilities are endless.
To get your creative juices flowing, here's one of my favorite kale recipes.
Asparagus and Kale Pasta
This dish is a great way to use two seasonal ingredients together. Combine it with a handful of asparagus and a big can of chopped tomatoes and this dish is absolutely full of nutrition.
- 1 lb ground hamburger
- 1/2 lb kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
- 1 12 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Splash of half and half (optional)
- 1 tbs fennel seeds, 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tbsp basil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1 tsp thyme, and 2 bay leaves
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- generous amounts of flaky salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 package of conchiglie pasta
Brown hamburger and onions in skillet. Drain some of the excess fat leaving enough to prevent burning, omit draining if meat is lean. Add spices and herbs, salt and pepper, sauté for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic. Let simmer to combine flavors and reduce liquid from tomatoes.
Start a pot of water to boil. Add conchiglie pasta and cook according to directions on package. Conchiglie is also known as shell pasta and is great for this recipe. Since this isn't a really sauce-y pasta dish, the cupped shape of the pasta will grab up the bits of veggies and meat really well. To blanch the kale, add to the boiling pasta for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain.
In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add half and half and cheese. The Parmesan and half and half create a lovely pink sauce. Add pasta and kale to sauce. Toss to combine and let stand for a minute or two to allow the pasta to soak up the fantastic flavors. Serve.