My weeknight cooking has evolved recently to include two more vegetables on a regular basis: Brussels sprouts and kale. I shared my go-to Brussels sprouts recipes last week. Now it’s kale’s turn.
Curly kale is the most widely available type of kale and it isn’t very pleasing to eat raw. The leaves are tough, spiky and bitter. Blanched in water and then sauteed, however, and kale transforms. Those tough leaves become an asset, because cooked kale doesn’t clump together like other cooked greens tend to do.
I have always disliked sauteing spinach because the spinach leaves quickly turn into a giant watery mass and it takes a lot of butter or oil to keep them apart. Cooked kale doesn’t have the same problem.
For a while I’ve been making sauteed kale as a side dish. Last weekend, my wife conceptualized this complete dish on her own. As soon as I tasted it I knew this would go into our regular rotation of dinners. It’s simple to make and uses ingredients that keep for weeks (including the kale).
The ratios in this recipe will serve two for dinner.
- 10 ounces curly kale (1 pre-chopped bag or 1-2 bunches) stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
- 4 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 small shallot, diced fine
- 2 cloves garlic, diced very fine or pressed
- 2-3 ounces pancetta, dry salami or bacon (3 slices), diced
- 4 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 15) sliced in quarters
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Pecorino romano cheese, finely grated
Step 1. Bring two pots of salted water to a boil – one for the kale and one for the pasta. Cook the pasta and drain, then toss with a little olive oil. Cook the kale for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Here’s the key part of this step, and why I love working with kale: Then dump the kale in a salad spinner and spin out all of the water. This way you don’t have to cook out the water when sauteing it later, and it’s more efficient than squeezing by hand.
Step 2. Cook your meat of choice. Because I had it on hand, I’ve used salami when making this dish. I’m eager to try pancetta next. With bacon you’ll have to remove some fat from the pan. Once the meat has cooked (or for the salami, when the fat has started to render out), add the shallot and garlic and cook over medium heat.
Step 3. After a couple minutes, once the shallots have turned translucent, add the kale to the pan. Depending on how much fat/oil is in the pan, you may need to add a splash or two of olive oil. Cook until the kale is steaming, any remaining water has cooked off, and the edges are just starting to crisp up.
Step 4. Turn the burner off and add the tomatoes. This is key. The residual heat from the pan will cook the tomatoes plenty; any more heat and they’ll disintegrate. Toss to combine, then add the red pepper flakes and ground fennel seed and season with salt and pepper.
Step 5. Add the spaghetti to the pan, then grate the pecorino over everything. Here’s another step where technique is important. You want the pecorino to melt completely, so grate a thin layer, then toss the pasta (tongs and a Microplane grater are really helpful). Grate another layer of cheese, then toss again.