Friday, May 3, 2013

Give Kale a Massage

Kale is very much in vogue these days.
We truly hope this trend will last. Not only does kale have incredible health benefits it is also, given little special care, utterly delicious. And there’s more: kale is locavore’s best friend. It has a long season that allows you to enjoy locally grown food after local growing season is officially over. The season starts now, takes a little break during the summer, comes back in the fall and stays through December (even January).
You can cook it, of course, add it to shakes and smoothies and even - as our friends at The Bent Spoon do sometimes - make kale ice cream. But one of the best ways to use kale is in salads. Yes, this tough leafy green is just stellar when softened a little and dressed with simple yet potent flavors.
The secret to a wonderful kale salad is a little surprising: give it a massage. Yes, seriously. Grab bunches of it in both hands and squeeze. Then rub them together. And repeat. It's almost like kneading bread. Do it a couple of minutes and you'll be amazed at the difference. That tough cellulose structure breaks down and those leaves that once seemed so coarse and fibrous turn bright green and silky. The flavor changes as well. That pronounced bitterness mellows, revealing depths of sweet green flavor.
When you buy kale at the farmers market, you might be overwhelmed by the number of varieties available. The good news is they all work equally well for salads. Provided, of course, that you bought fresh, brightly colored leaves and you gave them a good massage.
Having said that, this time of the year kale is still very young and very tender so you may not have to massage it. Give a bite and decide! But as the temperatures rise kale matures and gets tougher and then in need for a massage.
To celebrate the season, here is Jim’s kale recipe, Use it on baby kale (as in the picture) or on mature massaged kale.
Kale Salad Cacio e Pepe
"Cacio e Pepe" means "cheese and pepper" in Italian. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the salad are very simple and include only black pepper, lemon and Pecorino Romano cheese. Cacio e pepe is typically made with pasta but Jim has found that the sweet and bitter flavors of the kale, the saltiness of the cheese and the slight acidity of the lemon make a perfectly balanced salad.
Serves 4-6

1 head kale, tough stems removed, massaged. Alternately you can use 5 large handfuls of baby kale leaves, washed and cut into bite-size pieces
½ cup good quality (preferably homemade) croutons
½ cup grated pecorino romano cheese

4 egg yolks from very fresh, local eggs
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. fine sea salt

Put the greens and croutons in a large mixing bowl.

Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and whisk until thick and pale in color. Very slowly
drizzle the olive oil in while still mixing. An extra set of hands is helpful here. When the
dressing is emulsified add the lemon juice, pepper and salt. Taste for seasoning and add a
little more lemon or water if it is too thick.

Mix the kale with the dressing and ½ the cheese. Garnish with the remaining cheese and
serve immediately. The dressing can be made a couple days ahead and refrigerated until
ready to use. Any variety of kale will work.

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