Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Taste of Holiday Greens
What’s cooking? Pasta with Kale and Bacon

There’s nothing quite so disheartening as coming up with what you think is a totally new idea and discovering that half the world already knows about it. But that will not stop me from telling you about my latest Kitchen Goddess creation. It turns out that my ego can withstand this assault.

Ever since we arrived in Texas, I’ve been trying to branch out from the endless parade of dinners featuring broiled chicken, broccoli, and rice, or some variation on the broccoli/rice bit. It was a perfectly satisfactory dinner for all those years when our sons were at home and I was still working; in fact, it was more than satisfactory. But once you get the kitchen of your dreams, you really need to branch out.

Our trip this year to Italy opened my eyes to the versatility of pasta. We’d been to Italy before, but mostly to areas in the north, where the cuisine is less pasta-centric. This time, we were in Campania, where the menu is heavily weighted toward fish and pasta. Not only is pasta versatile, it’s much more of a one-pile meal, as my friend Joy would call it. You can add a salad, but with the right combination of ingredients, you can get all the basic food groups – except for chocolate – into a single dish. And unless you insist on Alfredo sauce – which I also love, but really... – it can be not only delicious, but healthy.

So when my husband left for a four-day golfing trip in November, I decided to experiment a bit. On the way home from the airport, I stopped at Central Market, a grocery store here known for good produce, and bought everything that looked good and interesting. Artichokes, kale, celery, pomegranates, haricot verts, carrots, parsnips, radishes, arugula, and baby red potatoes. Even broccoli. And for the next four days, I managed every meal from that stash.

I mixed the pomegranate seeds with my yogurt and honey for breakfast, made broccoli soup for lunch, roasted carrots and parsnips for dinner. I braised the celery and made a casserole of it with cream and Parmesan cheese. I pickled the radishes, and turned the haricots verts into roasted sesame green beans; then I mixed up a really nice green goddess dressing to go with the artichoke and the asparagus. (I saved the red potatoes for Thanksgiving and will tell you about that yummy experiment in another post.)

The last night on my own, I had run through much of my veggie collection. The kale had been staring at me – taunting me – every time I opened the frig, but I hadn’t figured out what to do with it. My original plan had been to do a raw kale salad and see how I liked it, but the weather had turned cool, and I needed something warm. What to do with the kale? Bacon. Yeah. It always seems so evil, but it’s soooo good. Maybe if I cooked it with the kale. My grandmother always used to throw bacon into her collard greens, and kale is a similar food, so I jumped in. And what I found was so amazing that I made it again for my hubby once he returned home. He loved it so much that I made it again just this week for my son and daughter-in-law, and they raved. My 11-month-old granddaughter even ate some. So here it is.

Kitchen Goddess notes:
(1) The only messy thing about kale is that you really have to chop it up, and the little curly edges get all over the counter. But be brave. Once I’ve cut out the tough stems, I stack it into bundles as thick as I can manage, and slice away.
(2) In my efforts to eat more healthily, I’ve switched to whole wheat pasta, which takes longer to cook than regular pasta, but tastes pretty much the same, and is really more nutritious. I prefer either fusilli (spirals) or farfalle (bow-tie), and when no one is looking will use some of each. 
(3) This is really such a flexible dish, you should feel free to mess around with it. More or less of any one ingredient shouldn’t hurt – so, for instance, if you really love sun-dried tomatoes, add extra. If you prefer sausage to bacon, give it a try (and let me know!). If you can’t find kale, try Swiss chard or collard greens – just adjust the cooking time, as chard will cook faster, while collards will likely take longer.

Pasta with Kale and Bacon
Serves 4.

1 pound whole wheat pasta (farfalle or fusilli work equally well)
6 slices bacon
½ cup onion in ¼-inch dice
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch kale (at least 1 pound), thick stems removed and leaves sliced in ½-inch ribbons
1 cup well-flavored chicken broth
3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, sliced in ⅛-inch strips
juice from ¼ lemon (about 1½ teaspoons)
salt/pepper to taste
optional garnish: grated Parmesan cheese

Heat salted water for pasta, but do not add pasta yet.

In a large sauté pan (one that has a lid), cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels. Once the bacon cools, crumble it.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to bacon fat and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook one more minute, stirring. Turn heat down slightly if necessary to keep the garlic from browning.

Add kale and fold gently in the sauté pan, to distribute the fat throughout. The kale will just about overflow the pan, so you may have to add it in two batches; but it will cook down quickly, so keep folding it over itself. Pour in the chicken broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At about the same time as you cover the kale, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook pasta until al dente or to taste.

When the kale is beginning to get tender (after about 10 minutes), stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and the lemon juice. Cover again and allow to simmer gently another 5-10 minutes until the kale is tender.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. If the pasta is ready ahead of the kale, save ½ cup of pasta water, adding it back to the pot with the drained pasta. Cover the pot until the kale is ready.

When both the pasta and the kale are ready, add the kale mixture to the pasta, and crumble the bacon into it. Stir well to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (if using), and serve immediately.

1 comment:

  1. How did I miss this recipe? Will try soon.
    Do you have a secret ingredient for your broccoli soup? I don't see a recipe listed but would love to know bc mine is just plain boring. And I actually like broccoli...
    Happy New Year!