I grow a lot of kale but I live with a non-believer: he and several of his co-workers (also non-kale-eaters) joke about kale's sudden rise in popularity along with yoga in the last two decades.
Actually, they aren't that far off from the truth. I don't recall seeing kale in the grocery store, much less eating kale, until sometime in the 90s. A little research supports this: as farmers' markets were revived in the 80s-90s, market growers sought a hardy green that could hold up under after picking, storing in coolers, transporting to the market, and sitting out in the elements for 4-6 hours. Kale fit the bill perfectly.
IN THE GARDEN
Kale is easy to grow, though prone to aphid visits, and produces leaves until the first hard frost. Harvest the lower leaves first and by August you will have Lilliputian kale trees. In some zones, kale will overwinter. To preserve kale leaves for winter use, simply remove the tough fibrous middle rib, slice into thin ribbons, saute or blanch in boiling water for several minutes and place into a freezer container or bag. Use in soups, casseroles, and stir-fries.
RECIPE: GREENS & BEANS GRATIN
This casserole offers lots of room for creativity so don't be shy about adding meat, vegetables or seasonings to make it your own recipe.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
GRATIN TOPPING: In a small bowl mix 1 ¼ fresh bread crumbs, 1 T. olive oil, ½ t. of red pepper flakes and sprinkle of salt. Set aside.
BEANS: 2 cups of cooked beans I use creamy cannellini (AKA white kidney beans) but any type of bean will work. If cooking dried beans (which is so much cheaper and tastier), cook to soft texture and drain, saving the cooking liquid. If using canned, drain and rinse the beans.
In a large ovenproof cast iron skillet or wok., heat 2 T. of olive oil.
Add 1 cup finely chopped onion and cook until caramelized (5-8 minutes).
Add 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic.
Add 2 T. chopped fresh rosemary or 1 T. dried rosemary. (Can use fresh oregano, basil, savory, etc.) Stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
In small batches, add 4 cups packed, coarsely chopped greens: kale, mustard greens, swiss chard, collards or any combination of them. Cook each batch until wilted. I would not advise using fresh spinach as it will not hold its own, becoming mushy in this recipe.
Return all cooked greens back to skillet.
Mash ½ cup of beans with fork or potato masher. Add to greens.
Add remaining whole beans.
Add the remaining ingredients:
- 1 cup vegetable, chicken or reserved bean broth.
- ½ cup of dry white wine
- ¾ cup Romano, Asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup diced canned tomatoes
- ½ tsp. salt and pepper
Creative additions: sweet or hot peppers, Italian sausage, diced chicken or turkey, chunks of summer squash or winter squash
Sprinkle prepared bread crumbs evenly over the top of the mixture. Bake until the mixture is bubbling and the gratin is lightly browned, 25-35 minutes.
Serve with pasta, cornbread or on its own.