Tag kale

The River Cafe’s Pasta with Kale and Lentils Earns an A-

The River Cafe comes to my rescue! The short days and downright cold nights of the last week reminded me that autumn in New England is really two seasons: it begins as the glorious end of summer, with blue skies, brilliantly colored leaves, and warm temperatures; and ends as the beginning of winter, with dark, gray afternoons. Afternoons that make me long for a warming dinner like this pasta with kale and lentils.

The recipe comes from Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of the River Cafe in London (not to be confused with The River Cafe in Brooklyn, NY, where a handsome assistant professor once wooed me). And to be accurate, the recipe is for “Pappardelle with cavolo nero and lentils.”

Cavolo nero, as my “Italian” mother would call it, is a green with many names. It is also called Tuscan kale and lacinato kale, or dinosaur or black kale. And while I love this kale variety, you could use most any dark leafy green. When I cooked the dish last night, I used baby red Russian kale, because that’s what had arrived in our weekly CSA box, and, natch, I nixed the pancetta.

I also used black beluga lentils rather than the Castelluccio or Puy lentils that the recipe called for. All are members of the prized family of small lentils that tend to hold their shape through cooking.

And …. drum roll … The Professor gave the dish an A-!!!

In terms of taste, The Professor liked the combination of flavors. The garlic and onions did some of the heavy lifting, he thought, but the lentils helped too, adding a “not quite meaty” taste.

He thought it was more satisfying than my kale pasta, where the kale and garlic were doing all of the work. And more interesting: “Sometimes vegetarian pastas are too one-dimensional,” said The Professor. “But each ingredient in there is adding flavor to the dish.”

I’m sure you’ll hear about this dish again as I try to improve its grade from A- to A+. But in the meantime, happy Thanksgiving.

Ingredients:

3 heads cavolo nero, stalks removed, blanched and roughly chopped

1 small onion, peeled and finely sliced

1/2 head celery, stalks and leaves chopped

1 tsp rosemary leaves

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 cup Chianti Classico wine

2/3 cup vegetable stock

1 cup cooked lentils (see note below)

1 1/2 pounds fresh papardelle

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and the stock in a small saucepan.

2. Add the onion and celery and cook until they begin to color. Add the garlic and cook for five minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook briefly until it is reduced.

4. Add the lentils, stir, and cook to combine for 3-4 minutes.

5. Add the cavolo nero and enough stock to liquefy the mixture. Season with salt and pepper and heat through.

6. Cook the pappardelle, drain well, and add to the lentil mixture along with the parmesan.

NOTE: Rogers and Gray boil their lentils in water for 35 minutes, with a celery stick for company. I’ve come to like Cook’s Illustrated’s approach, developed to produce lentils that maintain their shape and “firm-tender bite”: The most important step in making a lentil salad is perfecting the cooking of the lentils so they maintain their shape and firm-tender bite. There turns out to be two key steps. The first is to brine the lentils in warm salt water. With brining, the lentil’s skin softens, which leads to fewer blowouts. The second step is to cook the lentils in the oven, which heats them gently and uniformly.

AND ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve just realized that I never wrote a post about Cook’s Illustrated‘s Lentil Salad with Carrots and Cilantro! I must have made it during my blog sabbatical. More on that soon!

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Superfood, super delicious: Pasta with Kale Pesto

Superfoods. If you’re into eating well, then you’ve likely already heard all about these ridiculously nutritious, often cancer-fighting grains, fruits, and vegetables. Many are fairly ordinary: oatmeal, blueberries, and spinach. Kale is one of the less common superfoods, at least in American kitchens. That might be because curly kale, the variety most often found on grocery shelves in this country, is a bit tough and slightly bitter. Tuscan kale (aka cavolo nero, dinosaur or lacinato kale) is sweeter. Though as part of the kale family, it’s passed over by most home cooks and greeted with suspicion by most American eaters.

In short, it’s the kind of vegetable that The Professor would resist on the theory that anything that healthy can’t possibly taste good.

Which brings us to the difference between wives and mother-in-laws. While The Professor has limited veto power at home, when we go to my parents for dinner he eats what he’s served with a good-son-in-law smile on his face. And so it was that one Easter Sunday, The Professor came to eat kale or as my mother called the dish, “pasta with cavolo nero.” (She thinks she’s Italian, remember?)

“That was actually pretty good,” The Professor said on the drive home.  I filed his comment in a mental folder and, a few weeks later, made the dish at home. He ate it, and within a few months, Mom’s kale pasta had become a semi-regular meal. If I got the kale/garlic balance right, even Ella, my three-something, ate it.

Yet … The Professor didn’t love it. It still left him wanting … something. He gave it a B.

So I thought about what I could add that would make the dish a more satisfying meal. Nutritionally, the dish lacked any substantive protein, so I decided to try adding nuts and cheese. I dug out my Mom’s pesto recipe, and replaced the traditional basil and pine nuts with blanched kale and walnuts. And last night, I cooked it.

It was, indeed, better than the original recipe for kale pasta. But a home run it wasn’t. I knew the grade before The Professor even said it: B+.

“Some people might like it with some sliced cherry tomatoes,” he offered. “To add a different texture and color.”

I may try that come tomato season. But in the meantime, I told him, “You don’t get a grade A meal every night. Some nights you’re lucky for a B+.”

If you have thoughts on how to make the dish an A, post a comment or email me at jessie at boingboing.net. Here’s the recipe:

2 bunches Tuscan kale, stemmed and washed

2 cloves garlic (one blanched with the kale, one tossed into the Cuisinart raw)

1 cup parmesan cheese (plus more for sprinkling)

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 tsp salt (+ more to taste)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 lb pasta

Bring a big pot of water to boil and blanch the kale and 1 clove of garlic for about three minutes.

Use tongs to remove the kale and garlic (you’ll be using the water to cook the pasta) and drain well. When it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water.

In a food processor puree the kale, both garlic cloves, the walnuts and the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl combine the kale mixture with the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta, drain, and toss with the kale pesto

Serve with parmesan cheese.