Remembering the basic two cooking ways I used to know with this kind of vegetable, makes me simply glad I found more to it than just preparing some kind of soup or stew of it.
Sure, I liked it very much, no doubt – when made well, with the right kind of meat and herbs and spices, it was lovely. Especially, when made at home. When made at school, however, my memories go from warm Mum’s (or Gran’s) kitchen to a sort of frown…and somehow blank expression.
And no matter how many times I ask myself – Why? Just why? – meaning, Why would they be spoiling such good – quality vegetable and turn it into some sort of unattractive mass?, I never come to any sensible answer. Is it the way the school canteens were supposed to be, was it the conditions of “there & then” that I will never view their way, simply because I was too young and knew nothing about the cooking for kids, or cooking “healthy foods”..?
Therefore, perhaps, many youngsters had adopted a life – long disgust and stayed forever put off even trying, or perhaps even looking at this kind of veg. That all, despite its lovely taste otherwise, loads of nutritional goodness and the perfect texture it can keep, if not overcooked and prepared the proper way – with less time meaning more actually.
Cutting a long story short: kale leaves, or in particular this one kind that I like a lot, Cavolo Nero, also known as Black Cabbage or Tuscan Kale, truly need no more than a few minutes of cooking, 5 – 6 is just enough, to have it done and still keep all its crispiness and wholesomeness. No need to keep kale cooking for a long time till its leaves become unrecognizable and create a sort of stewy mash.
Naturally, ways with it can be various, and here’s one of the simpler ones: pop your washed, trimmed and cut into strips kale leaves into boiling water, lower the heat to medium and keep the timing as suggested above. Resist overcooking, and drain when the leaf strips become just tender.
You can then choose many other ingredients to accompany this veg – it likes garlic and Mediterranean herbs. In this one particular suggestion, that my vegetarian friends might appreciate, I used Halloumi cheese which I grilled on a separate pan shortly, or till slightly golden on each side, together with two chopped celery sticks and a large tomato (which I bathed in a boiling water for a minute to peel it before adding it to my pan). You can mix all these, with a couple of sliced black olives, some fresh basil, a sprinkle of salt and freshly – ground black pepper, with a splash of good olive oil.
The kale of this kind goes also really well with Pancetta and Parmesan cheese, which one alongside the other go quite lovely with pasta actually. The kale gives them its humble, earthy yet peppery taste and when boiled well, completes the meals with its green and filling freshness.
And no, I would have never expected Pancetta or Parmesan at any of the school canteens I had ever eaten at – and I am aware of that those are not school foods indeed, but neither would I see it with pasta, or combined this easily with any other sort of vegetables, which is maybe worse – because they somehow knew just one or two ways of preparing it – sadly, the “stewy mashy shapeless” way, leaving whole armies of detested young people behind, who quite possibly never ever trusted the kale leaves again.
Well, sometimes, all it takes is just to give “something” a second look, and make a different choice. That’s how you can also help yourself, and help this “something” – here, the kale leaves, give a second chance – and the pay off may be very well worth the attempt.