Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Braised Kale

Queens is not really the coolest borough to live in. It lacks the history and inherent "we're better then everyone" nature of Manhattan, and it lacks the cool rep of Brooklyn. To those paying attention, however, Queens is building some pride. We have cool bars like Dutch Kills, Studio Square and Sweet Afton. 5 Napkin Burger, a place that has gained a following in Hell's Kitchen, just opened a location in Astoria. With the lower rent and bigger spaces, it's becoming harder for those who look to create cool things to overlook Queens. Which is, in all its weirdness, how we ended up with a rooftop farm named Brooklyn Grange.

I think they wanted to be in Brooklyn, but really only the wide open spaces of a Long Island City, Queens factory has the space to sustain a farm on its roof. A full acre, high above Northern Boulevard. They raised money with a Kick Start campaign and had a bit of a problem with a stop work order when they neglected to file permits. I've been following them for months and finally they've started to harvest and sell veggies off a table in the lobby of the very building they are growing on top of. I stopped in Thursday to peruse the goods, and I found mostly what you'd expect at this time of summer, beets, scallions, and a hell of a lot of greens. Among the bounty I found my gaze drawn to a leaf I've been pondering for some time. I strode out of the lobby armed with bunch cut that very morning, it was time to try my hand at Kale.

Kale has been on my mind for months now, ever since Smitten Kitchen showed the world how to turn it into green chips in March. I've never worked with it, seeing as I'm generally intimidated by all greens that are not baby spinach. Kale was just so hardy--so big and intimidating; I didn't know what the hell to do with it. But really, kale is just a type of cabbage, so not so scary. Not that I've ever been such a huge fan of cabbage, since my mother stewed it up in her bastardized Irish food every March, but this year I've started learning about slaw and have warmed to the strange round veggie. If kale was part of this family, I knew I could handle it.

I thought about just making the Smitten Kitchen chips, but I didn't want a snack. I wanted a side dish, I really wanted to cook with this stuff. Searching around, I landed on a braised kale dish. Okay, here's the part where I admit I didn't read the whole recipe before I started working. If I had, I might have been more aware of the nearly two hours of cooking time and we wouldn't have had dinner at 10 pm. Also I might have noticed that the oven needs to be on for at least an hour of that time, during a heat wave. I give fair warning, unless you have a delightfully air-conditioned kitchen, this is not a summer dish. Or a weeknight dish.

If, however, you want to file this away for two months, you may find a Saturday when it's kinda chilly, and you want something warm, a little heavy, and packed with anti-oxidents and vitamin A. Not that I'm calling a veggie cooked in essentially bacon grease healthy. Just full of vitamins. Like the Flinstones. The recipe called for Tuscan Kale, but I actually don't know if that's what I had. It was one of those farmer's market type thing where the sign just said "Kale" and I didn't know there were different types until I got home and looked it up. It was flat leaf though, that much I know. Not curly. Apparently there's a difference.

Braised Kale with Pancetta and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from Gourmet magazine
Serves 2

- 1 Bunch of Kale (Flat leaf kind. Which might be called Tuscan, Cavolo Nero, Lacinato, or Dinosaur)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 3 oz of diced pancetta
- 1 fresh thyme sprig
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1 to 2 cups of unsalted chicken stock

Parchment paper, kitchen string

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit just inside a 3-4 quart heavy ovenproof pot, and set aside.

Boil salted water in a large pot and blanch kale for 2 minutes. Transfer to a colander and drain well.

Warm oil in the 3-4 quart pot over moderate heat, then add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer pancetta with a slotted spoon to a plate and reserve, discarding all but 2 tablespoons of fat in pot.

Tie thyme and bay leaf together with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni. (To keep from crushing the dried bay leaf, I basically poked a hold in the leaf and pulled the string through it.) Add garni to pot along with onions and garlic. Cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Return pancetta to pot then add butter and heat, stirring occasionally, until melted. Stir in kale and add enough stock to cover three fourths of kale. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover kale directly with parchment round, then transfer pot to oven and braise, stirring once or twice, until kale is very tender, about 35-40 minutes.

Transfer pot to stovetop setting on medium heat and discard parchment. Boil mixture, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid is evaporated but kale is still moist, about 25-30 minutes. Discard bouquet garni and garlic and season kale with salt and pepper.

It was a very heavy side dish, which was appropriate for the steak we put it next to but not necessarily for the season. It was damn tasty though, infused with all that cured pork and garlic. I've said it before: if your not sure how to make a veggie really tasty, covering it in cheese or cooking it with bacon will usually do the trick. Any vegan reading this is spitting at the screen right now. It was one of those dishes that I thought was even better warmed up the next day, so once September or October rolls around, I encourage you to enjoy this dish to the fullest!


Cajun Chef Ryan said...

Indeed, braised kale is an amazingly tasty and healthy dish. Thanks for reminding me of how good this overlooked green can be.

Bon appetit!

Squeaky Gourmet said...

delish and healthy, veggies FTW!

Mother Rimmy said...

I adore kale. Add pancetta and I'm in heaven!

Thomas Andrew said...

pancetta makes everything a little better ;-)

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