Is there anyone out there who hasn't eaten kale? Who is still a kale hater? Let me help convert you.
In the last few years, kale seems to have become the poster child for healthy eating. I admit I was late jumping on the kale bandwagon, and the only kale I grow in my garden is the lacinato or Tuscan kale (sometimes called dinosaur kale), which is called cavolo nero in Italian and is typically used in the Tuscan soup ribollita (recipe here).
This dish of beans, sausage and kale is something I normally make with swiss chard or escarole, but I decided to try it with kale instead. While I still think Swiss chard has a sweeter taste, kale is perfect for this recipe since it stands up well to the longer cooking time required for the beans and it reheats without any loss of flavor. In fact, reheating only improves the taste.
I used these beans I bought from Gustiamo.com - fagioli del purgatorio - and loved them. These didn't need presoaking and maintained their shape even after reheating. They're native to Gradoli, a town in Lazio. The name "purgatory beans" dates back to the end of the 1600s, when they were boiled and dressed with olive oil and salt, and eaten as part of a meatless meal for Ash Wednesday, called "pranzo del purgatorio."
Even though it's summer here, I've made this dish a couple of times because of all the kale growing in my garden. It freezes beautifully too, though, so make some for one of those cold winter nights when you don't want to cook.
I've used my kale in a couple of other ways this summer too.
Maybe I'm the last person on this planet to try kale chips. I was inclined to dislike them, but everyone I served these too (and me too), thought they were delicious. They're really easy to make and they're a healthy snack alternative. I used a recipe from Ina Garten, aka, The Barefoot Contessa.
Pull out the center rib from the kale, then spritz with some good olive oil, a shake of salt and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes.
They're crinkly and taste kind of like parmesan cheese. Without the cheese, I'm not sure I'd be sold on kale chips. But this platter disappeared quickly.
The other kale dish that was a hit was this kale salad. You don't need a bonafide recipe. Just chop some raw kale, add some corn shaved off the kernels (I cooked the cob for about three minutes first ), then I chopped some carrots and parboiled the bits for a few minutes. I added some red onion, toasted hazelnuts and chopped shishito peppers from my garden, but you could use red peppers or any vegetable you like. Parmesan cheese shavings were tossed in too, then the whole thing was mixed with an easy-to-make dressing of mayonnaise thinned with lemon juice - an idea I got from my buddy Marie, of Proud Italian Cook.
It made a refreshing lunch and I didn't have to feel guilty about that piece of cake I ate following the salad.
Kale, Beans and Sausage
2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch of lacinato kale chopped (I used approximately eight cups, but you don't have to be exact)
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 cup dry fagioli del purgatorio beans (or another small, white bean, but you'll probably have to soak them ahead of time, unlike the fagioli del purgatorio beans)
2 cups water
1 parmesan cheese rind
herbs of your choosing - I used fresh parsley, thyme and oregano
salt, pepper to taste
hot red pepper flakes
roasted red pepper or bits of chopped tomato (optional)
Remove the casings from the sausage and place in a saucepan, covered with water. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove the sausage and slice, but retain the water for later use. In another pan, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened. Add the kale to the pot and the water leftover from cooking the sausage. Let the kale cook down for about five minutes (with the lid on), then add the beans, the sausage, the water and the parmesan rind to the pot. Don't add the salt yet, or the beans will toughen, but DO add the pepper, the herbs and the red pepper flakes. I sometimes add a small amount of chopped tomato and/or roasted red peppers. Let everything simmer with the lid on for about one hour, or until the beans are tender. Keep checking and add more water if necessary. When everything is cooked, add the salt. If it's not "soupy" enough to your liking, add more water.
It's great served with grilled bread that's been rubbed with raw garlic and olive oil.