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The Star of the Party – Kale!

April 07, 2008

Kale

My French cousins are coming for Sunday lunch and I’m thrilled to have them in my home. They haven’t come to the United States in so long that I actually can’t remember when the last time was. For me, this visit is a big deal.

What to cook? Nothing French, that seems obvious. Something they are not used to eating that’s good and easy; a Southern inspired menu seems right. I order a spiral sliced ham from Harrington of Vermont (it only needs to be heated). I make biscuits, potatoes and pecan squares for dessert. For the vegetable I decide on kale because it seems very southern and I don’t remember ever having it in France. I’ve never made it before, but I’ve made greens so I’m not too worried.

When everything is done, it’s the Kale* that gets my attention! It has a depth of flavor that is stronger and fuller then spinach. The firmer texture lends itself better to being a stand alone vegetable and the butter that browns in the pan, as the greens cook, adds a nutty flavor that compliments the greens perfectly.

Kale and Bacon

Just before lunch, I put a large stock pot on the stove, melt a stick of butter and add enough kale to loosely fill the pot. I stir the greens until they start to melt and become a dark, deep, glossy green and continue adding greens until they’re all incorporated. I add bacon pieces that I keep pre-cooked in the refrigerator to add texture and a salty crunch and place the kale along with the rest of the lunch on the buffet. I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy to prepare or so delicious.

Lunch is perfect. As in all good meals, the food is the ideal back drop for the conversation. We discuss the events of our lives, relatives and remind each other about the stories that make up our family lore. We spend the next few hours enjoying both the food and each other, and as often happens, we move to politics, I get the chance to ask what the French really think about their president and his new wife?

As we say goodbye they reiterate their delight with the food and especially the kale. As it turns out I was not the only one impressed by the flavor of this wonderful vegetable.

Kale* in Butter with Bacon Bits
Serves 4-6 people

Kale – 2 lb serves 4-6 people
½ stick of butter
1 Tble spoon olive oil
½ lb of thick bacon (optional)
Salt and pepper

• Clean and remove the stems of the kale and break the leaves into medium size pieces.
• Store in plastic bags. If you plan to do this a day ahead, add a damp towel.
• Cut up the ½ lb of bacon into small pieces and place on a baking sheet. Cook in 400º oven until they are crispy, between 15 and 20 minutes.
• Drain the bacon and store between paper towels to remove the excess fat. Note this can be done ahead and refrigerated. I often have some already made to add flavor to dishes. Bacon should be brought to room temperature before using.
• In a large pot, melt the ½ stick of butter with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
• Add enough kale leaves to fill half the pan.
• With the stove at medium high heat, stir the greens until they start to wilt and are covered with the butter.
• Add more greens and continue as above.
• When you add the last batch of kale to the pot, also add the bacon pieces and season with salt and pepper to taste.
• When the last batch has started to be integrated into the cooked kale, turn the stove off and serve. It will finish cooking in your serving dish.

*Chou frisé is the French word for kale literally translated it means curly cabbage.

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