For the love of kale

There’s something so dreary about the word ‘kale’. Trying dragging it out – kaaaaale. Depressing. Boring. Dull. Virtuous. Farty. Tough.

Wrong, it’s none of those*. And at this time of year, it’s a godsend to the vegetable gardener. We’ve had a couple of sharp frosts and right now it’s trying to snow – again – so my kale is in prime picking condition.

IMG_1332This year, I grew it by accident. Almost.

It’s a toughie: it withstands conditions like these in 2010 (the kale is the leafy lump, foreground, right), and shrugs off the worst effects of the weather, laughing all the while. It can be eaten to the stalk by caterpillars during the summer but spring right back in winter. Nothing, but nothing, kills it. And as a result, I’ve suffered from kale-glut syndrome.

The symptoms are easily recognisable: a freezer full of frozen kale, a tendency to put kale in everything, to contemplate making kale ice cream and flavouring chocolate mousse with it, a desire to be really close friends with everyone and give them presents. Of kale. So last year I decided I wouldn’t plant any, and stuck to my resolve. (Shh. I missed it. A bit.)

Earlier this year I was inveigled into taking home some small cavolo nero plants at the Green Fair and plant swap in Penrhyndeudraeth. I didn’t want to, but I most emphatically did want to get rid of some tomato seedlings in exchange, so I took a tray. I shoved them in a corner of the veg plot and left them alone. The caterpillars didn’t; they had a fantastic time. But I remembered that a bare kale stalk can mystically regenerate, and left them in. They’re now the only thing standing, and they are DELICIOUS.

cavolo neroBut what do you do with kale, even if it is the sophisticated cavolo nero, given that the kale ice cream was not a hit?

This little lot is being shredded and added to a stir fry this evening. It’s also been in stews and baked with pasta, and it’s been in a lovely Tuscan ribollita in the past, though not yet this year. There are lots more possibilities, too, and of course it can take really strong flavours and stand up to them, face them down, even. Watch this space.

My latest favourite is a pasta sauce. The recipe came from an Italian neighbour and was scribbled on the back of a receipt from the local farmers’ co-op (once my shopping receipts urged me to try perfumes; this one’s slogan informs me that ‘quality bull semen is now in’). It was pinned on my kitchen noticeboard for ages but has finally made its way safely into my notebook. It serves one, due to unreasoning prejudice in the kale stakes.

Orachietti con cavolo nero
Serves 1

80-100g orachietti
a big handful of small cavolo nero leaves
half a tsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
6 anchovies
chilli flakes, to taste

Put a large pan of slightly salted water on to the boil. As soon as it boils, add the orachietti. Time it – when the water returns to the boil, allow the orachietti to cook for half the time specified on the packet (this usually means about 5 minutes). During this time, chop the cavolo nero and discard any tough-looking stems. Add the leaves to the orachietti once the 5 minutes have elapsed, and allow it to cook for the rest of the specified time – generally 10-12 minutes in total.

Warm the oil in a small frying pan over a gentle heat. Add the garlic and the anchovies, and break the anchovies up with a wooden spoon. Add the chilli flakes and stir – cook very briefly.

Drain the pasta and cavolo nero well, and return them to their warm pan. Tip in the contents of the frying pan, stir everything together and serve immediately, with plenty of black pepper. Enjoy!

kale

* Confession time. Honesty makes me admit that kale can be difficult. Pick the wrong variety and cook it wrongly, and it can be every single one of the negative things listed. I once sowed an obscure heritage kale out of interest and respect for generations of north-of-Scotland crofters, and it was possibly one of the toughest things I’ve ever grown. It was beautiful to look at, very prolific, and shoes, it would have been fine for. Eating – meh…

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6 thoughts on “For the love of kale

  1. I love kale too – and can relate to this. Ironically I’ve just (as in just last night) written a blogpost about planning my kitchen garden year and my decision to pull out the perennial kale, because even though it’s all very heritage and permaculture – I don’t like eating it – I prefer cavelo nero & dwarf curly kale too!

    This recipe sounds great and I’ll add it to my list. People keep mentional kale chips on twitter, I must look up a recipe for that. Unless you have one?

    1. I had some good Russian kale – which is really pretty – and that was fine as long as I didn’t let the leaves get too big. That seems to be key with kale (and other things, such as sprouts, aka Satan’s droppings)…

  2. Was that the Sutherland kitchen kale? I’ve grown it this year, and it’s been fine. Not the tenderest, but not stringy and certainly tasty.

    1. It was indeed – mine was strangely prickly on the underside of the leaves. Maybe I was using leaves that were too big? Or maybe my seed wasn’t true (the Green Fair again). They can cross quite easily, I belive…

  3. OK, OK, I give in, that recipe sounds delicious, so this will be the year I grow kale. When is best to sow it? It can go where the Jerusalem Artichokes were/are… Now those were a mistake. A delicious, farty, overwhelming kingside mistake… Sprouts fried in butter with smoked paprika, honey and a dash of lime renders even larger specimens utterly delicious…

    1. It is, believe me. I usually plant mine around midsummer, but this had evidently been planted in the spring, so I don’t think it matters (except it gives the caterpillars longer to eat it).

      I’ve tried Jerusalem artichokes too. No. I’m just saying that. Now globe artichokes: oh, yeah. If it wasn’t for that evidence of sprout fondness – sprouts are Satan’s droppings – I’d say we had similar tastes.

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