The Native Americans named each full moon for the characteristics of each month… Wolf Moon, Hunger Moon, Egg Moon, Thunder Moon….I declare January to be Eating Kale Moon. Winter is the season for kale. The leaves are sweeter, the green intensely nourishing… and kale is about the only thing left in the garden right now, so we’re going to eat it.
We’ve been eating lots of kale since fall—wonderful kale salads, garlicky sautés, taco fillings, and stirred into soups. But I wanted to really honor this winter-hearty green. For inspiration, I turned to the Italians. I don’t think anyone does kale better, most likely because they enjoy powerful-tasting vegetables and aren’t shy about seasoning with garlic and chiles, not to mention delicious olive oil.
I have three Italian cookbooks that reflect what Alice Waters calls “vegetable reverence.” They are Franny’s Simple, Seasonal, Italian from Franny’s restaurant in New York, Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, and Cooking with the Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux. All reveal Italian cooking as a celebration of vegetables …creating out-of-the-ordinary dishes with ordinary, simple ingredients and allowing vegetables to star in the menu. Simplicity and honesty in the cooking and devotion to seasonal eating are both part of the respect these cookbooks show to vegetables.
Lacinato Kale Pesto
This is an adaptation of a recipe from Franny’s. It doesn’t have to be made with Lacinato (Tuscan or Dinosaur are other names) kale, but this heirloom variety is sweeter and more tender than most and a beautiful dark black-green. Kale pesto is great for tossing with pasta—choose a wiggly shape like fusilli to hold the sauce. It’s also a wonderful with a smear of goat cheese as a topping for bruschetta.
Ingredients: 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, 1 bunch kale (12 oz), 4 Tbs lovely-tasting olive oil, 4 Tbs thinly sliced garlic cloves, pinch red chile flakes, 2 Tbs walnut oil, 4 Tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, grated lemon zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Toast the walnuts in the oven at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Strip the kale leaves off the thick center ribs and add them to the boiling water. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Scoop the leaves into a colander and cool with cold tap water. Drain and squeeze the leaves gently to remove excess water.
Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in a small skillet with the garlic and red chile over low heat. Cook about 2 minutes, until small bubbles rise around the cloves and they soften. Add 2 Tbs water to the pan and remove from the heat.
Transfer the kale, garlic-oil, walnut oil, parsley, lemon zest, salt, 1/2 of the walnuts, and the cheese (if using) to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to make a coarse paste. Crush the remaining walnuts using a mortar and pestle and stir them into the pesto.
Toss with freshly cooked pasta or spread on toasted bread or slices of polenta with a few more shavings of Parmesan
Winter Risotto with Winter Squash and Kale
Domenica Marchetti makes this risotto with butternut squash and Tuscan kale. I used my wonderful Zucca Berrettina Piacentina (just saying the name makes my mouth water), a more flavorful squash from Seeds From Italy. They also supplied seed for Galega de Folhas Lisas, a curly kale. I like to think the flavor is incomparable, but maybe I just grow them for the way their names roll off my tongue.
Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1 lb winter squash, 8 oz kale, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice, 1cup dry white wine, 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper
Bring the broth to a low simmer in a saucepan.
Warm the olive oil and onion in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir frequently for 7 or 8 minutes, until the onion is softened and translucent. Cut the winter squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Remove the center ribs from the kale and slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Add the squash and kale to the onion and stir to coat them with oil. Sprinkle with salt and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the kale and squash are just tender.
Add the rice and continue stirring 2 to 3 minutes to completely coat the grains with oil. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in 1/2 cup wine. Stir constantly until it is absorbed, then add the remaining wine. When the wine is absorbed, begin adding the hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Reduce the heat to medium and stir frequently, allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding more.
Taste the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. It should be tender, but firm to the bite—al dente. Add liquid in smaller amounts as the rice approaches being fully cooked. It should be moist but not runny. Stir in the cheese to fully incorporate it into the risotto. Remove from the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Zuppa di Ceci e Laciniato
Chickpea and Kale Soup
A soup from la cucina povera—poor people’s food. Drew calls it “frugal luxury.” Greens and beans are easy on the budget and combine to make a dish of luxurious flavor. In this case, a creamy and comforting background of beans is given a jolt of flavor and color from the deep bright green of kale and the warmth of chile. Zuppa is a soup made for dipping, so serve with crusty bread or croutons and a swirl of chile-herb oil. The soup also makes a fine sauce for pasta.
If you start with dried chickpeas, the liquid from cooking the beans will provide a flavorful broth for the soup. I always make a big pot when I cook dried beans. The beans cook more evenly, and the extras freeze beautifully for future use. If you are using canned chickpeas, you can substitute a homemade or commercial vegetable or chicken broth for the bean broth.
Ingredients: 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas (you will need 2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, freshly cooked or canned), 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, 1 small dried red chile, 4 cloves unpeeled garlic, 3 Tbs olive oil, 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1/4 tsp red chile flakes, 2 Tbs minced garlic, 1 8-oz bunch kale (about 7-8 cups chopped), 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes, 3 to 4 cups bean broth or vegetable/chicken stock, salt and freshly ground black pepper, grated pecorino-Romano for serving
Chile-Herb Oil: 4 Tbs olive oil 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp red chile flakes, 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme… (Or 2 tsp Rachel’s Sicilian herb salt with sundried tomatoes, smoked chiles, onion, garlic, and rosemary) Mash the garlic into a paste with a pinch of sea salt with a mortar and pestle. Add the chile and fresh herbs and crush with the pestle. Whisk in the olive oil and allow to sit 1 hour.
To cook dried chickpeas, start a day ahead. Rinse the beans and pick through them for small rocks. Put the beans in a pot with 1/2 tsp baking soda and add at least 2 qts water to cover. Soak them 12 to 14 hours.
Drain the soaked beans, rinse well, and put them in a large pot with 8 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil and skim off any bean froth that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and add the bay leaves, rosemary, dried chile, and whole garlic cloves. Simmer about 1 hour, or until the chickpeas are tender but not beginning to fall apart. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp sea salt and turn off the heat. Remove the rosemary, bay leaves and whole garlic from the pot. Discard the herbs and squeeze the garlic cloves into the pot.
While the beans are cooking, strip the kale leaves off the stems and cut them into thin strips. Wash and drain. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the minced garlic and chile flakes and cook 1 minute. Add 3 cups bean broth or other liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped tomatoes and kale leaves; stir to combine. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the kale is tender.
Set 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas aside. Add 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas ( if you are using canned chickpeas, add beans and their liquid) to the kale broth and simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender, food mill, or regular blender (be careful with hot liquid!) to puree the soup in batches. Add more beans if it is too thin, more broth or water if it is too thick. Season with salt, pepper, or red chile to your taste. Re-warm the soup if needed. Stir the reserved chickpeas back into the soup, or scatter them on top.
I like to toast the whole chickpeas in a skillet with a little herb-chile oil before scattering them over the top of the soup. If you are making croutons, you can toast them in the oven. Serve the soup with toasted bread or croutons and a bowl of freshly grated pecorino- Romano cheese. Drizzle with chile-herb oil, or perhaps a squeeze of fresh lemon.