kale, glorious kale...
I originally wanted to feature this kale polenta recipe, because, well, it seemed pretty great and I was sort of working through the cookbooks that I had that happened to be in this year's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks (people arguing unbelievably passionately about cookbooks. SO incredibly my people. Anyway). I own around 5 of the 16 books that were in the tournament this year. I was super bummed when April Bloomfield's “A Girl and Her Greens” was out in the first round! The odds were totally stacked against her, as they just happened to put her incredible veg-centric book up against a baking book. Sugar is of course the cocaine of food, and yeah I get it, cookies and cakes were just a little sexier then potatoes and kale. I GUESS. Not to me. But whatever.
Anyway, so I wanted to feature a recipe from her book, and this one looked great. What I didn't expect was that the absolute star of the dish is in fact the kale puree itself! I mean, the polenta is great, you should totally make it. But if for some reason you are not feelin it? Make the kale puree anyway! It is so simple and easy to make, and I was legit shocked by how delicious it is.
Now. I tend to be overly metaphorical about pretty much everything in life, drawing grand life lessons from what many would view as mundane moments, such as preparing a vegetable in a new way. That being said, I still feel comfortable saying that this kale puree taught me some valuable lessons. I will now pass the Wisdom of the Kale on to you.
Keep An Open Mind
Before this kale puree, I didn't think I liked the flavor of cooked kale. I had tried it in a pasta dish with tomatoes and I didn't care for it. I once heard Molly Wizenberg (on the Spilled Milk podcast) describe the flavor of out of season green beans as “dark green.” This is the best way to describe the way I remember the cooked kale tasting. Dark green- perhaps overly vegetal, maybe a bit like you'd imagine moss might taste. The way people who don't like healthy food imagine that healthy food tastes, perhaps. Any of this making sense? Anyway, this recipe looked so good I shrugged and tried it, even though I have only eaten kale raw, mostly in some sort of salad form, since my first run in with the cooked stuff. THANK GOD I TRIED IT! It was totally against my instincts to plunge perfectly good kale into boiling water, but the result was absolutely incredibly delicious. It is a perfectly seasoned, deep emerald magic sauce. More of a deep green than a dark green, the flavor is pure, clean, perfectly balanced.
Keep It Simple.
Although this is a recipe for kale puree, it immediately trumped and heretofore replaced all kale pestos in my mind. I have made kale pesto once before, the recipe from a respected source that will remain anonymous. It was fine, there was nothing WRONG with it. Except, in retrospect, what was wrong with it was that it wasn't this kale puree. There were quite a few more ingredients in that recipe, including nuts, cheese, and bit of basil. While it was by no means terrible it just felt like it wished it was regular basil pesto. Like it was hiding. Hiding from being kale. Be proud, kale! This uber-simple dark green magic will now be the only kale pesto I need. I should've known. To keep it simple.
Ok. So, now I have convinced you all that I am obsessed with kale and possibly need a straight jacket and heavy medication. Before you back away slowly and call the authorities, just give the kale puree a try. You can put it on literally everything. I stirred a big spoonful into some olive oil in a big pan and fried eggs in it. They were incredible. Pasta, toast, sandwiches... roasted vegetable would be amazing tossed in this stuff. Before I go on, do me a favor and just give it a try.
5 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 pound Tuscan kale (though any kale will do in a pinch!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt or another flaky salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (don't scrimp here- use extra virgin!)
Grab a medium pot, add 4 of the garlic cloves, fill it with water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. While the water boils, remove the tough stems from the kale. You can do this with a knife, or strip them with your hands by holding the end of the stem in one hand, pinching the your other hand around the bottom of the leaf, and pull down the stem towards the tip. Once you get the knack of it it's fast and easy.
When water is boiling, add enough salt so the water tastes slightly salty. Add the kale, pushing it under the water with tongs. Cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes, until kale is tender. Using tongs, lift the kale out of the pot into a colander set in the sink or over a bowl. Remove the garlic from the water as well. The pot now contains a beautiful, delicate, perfectly seasoned kale broth. I like to keep this to sip on, or add to soups and stews. Alternately, discard if you aren't feeling it.
When the kale is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Roughly chop the kale, boiled garlic, and raw garlic. Combine the kale, garlic, and salt in a food processor. Process for about 45 seconds (stopping to stir/scrape down sides if you like), then add the oil. Continue processing (stopping to stir as needed) until you've reached a nice puree. I used my tiny mini-chop food processor which worked great and turned out a wonderfully chunky pesto-ish puree. You could also use a blender for this, though you may need to add a bit more oil to get things moving. This would turn out a smoother puree which would also be fab.
Rejoice! You have discovered the magical kale puree. Store in a jar or other airtight container in the refrigerator. Will keep at least a week or more, if you don't gobble it up in the first two days. Can be used in or on basically anything you can imagine. Use anywhere you'd use pesto. Toss it with or spread it on anything, or use it as dip. Kale everything!
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups coarse polenta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup (or more) Kale Puree
Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
3 tablespoons something creamy: mascarpone, ricotta, greek yogurt, sour cream, etc
Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Slowly pour in polenta, whisking constantly. Keep whisking for about 2 minutes, until the polenta is starts to thicken slightly. Turn the heat to low- bubbles should barely erupt every now and then. Cooking, stirring occasionally, until polenta is tender but still has some texture. For me this took about 25-30 minutes, though it could take up to 45. Stir in olive oil, kale puree, and a good amount of parmesan, and cook a few more minutes. Remove from heat. Taste to check seasoning- add more salt if needed. Swirl in the creamy stuff- it doesn't need to be fully incorporated. Top with more parm and plenty of black pepper. Serve directly from the pot.