A Vibrant Kale Pasta Sauce
Kales are a mainstay of the garden from mid-fall to early spring, with their winter hardiness, and their ruddy beauty. The various leaf sizes, colors, shapes, and textures seem to be almost endless, allowing one to paint kale parterres – if one was so inclined (not me). And of course, they (and their close relative collards) are of mainstay of the kitchen as well – especially as cold actually brings a touch of sweetness to the leaves.
Some are excellent in salads with a tender texture, even when the leaves are mature, and others are much better cooked – such as Lacinato kale (aka Dinosaur kale, black kale or Tuscan kale).
Soon overwintered kale is going to bolt, the shoots sometimes called kale raab – perfectly delicious in their own right. When that happens, the plants sends energy to the flowers to create seeds – the leaves are now a distraction. For best eating quality pick the leaves before the plants flower. So large bouquets of leaves from the overwintered kales are making their way to the kitchen now. The newly planted ones are added to leafy salads as “baby” kale.
Lacinato kale with its sturdy dark green savoyed leaves does not play well in raw salads – except when shredded thinly and massaged. But its steams and blanches beautifully, becoming a simple leafy green vegetables on the plate, or transformed into a surprisingly vibrant green sauce for pasta. And it’s fast: 30 minutes from garden to plate.
I am only providing guidelines and not exact proportions. I never make it the same, and it’s always delicious.
- 1 large bunch Lacinato kale
- 2 large clove of garlic
- a handful of cashew or your favorite nuts or cooked/canned chickpeas
- a few tablespoons of good quality olive oil
- a few anchovy fillets (optional but recommended)
- your favorite pasta (I prefer something like penne or rigatoni or thick cut tagiatelle)
- parmesan cheese
- salt, pepper, cayenne or red pepper flakes
Bring a large pot of water with salt to boil (large enough to hold all the kale)
Remove the kale leaves from the stems (discard the stems). When the water is boiling drop in the leaves and boil for 2-3 minutes depending how sturdy they are. You want them with a bit of a bite remaining, but soft enough to eat with pleasure. With tongues, remove the kale leaves from the water and transfer to a powerful blender. It’s Ok to have some water with the leaves. In fact you want some water to help puree… but not too much. Add the garlic, nuts (or chickpeas), a glug of olive oil, and the anchovies. Process to a texture you like (I puree mine very smooth). Add a little bit of the cooking water to thin the puree as desired, you want it fairly thick but pourable… but not soupy. Taste and add salt & pepper as desired.
Use the blanching water to cook the pasta to your preferred doneness, and then drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water.
Either make individual plates or a big bowl to pass at the table. If individual plates, put some pasta in each plate, pour sauce in the middle, sprinkle with parmesan & cayenne, and let everyone mix their own plate. If making a big bowl to share, toss the pasta with the kale sauce (some or all depending how much you’ve made), add a generous amount of parmesan, and toss well to coat the pasta. Use some of the reserved water if necessary, a little bit at a time, to thin the sauce, tossing until the pasta is nicely coated with a creamy texture sauce. Give it a nice dash of cayenne or hot pepper flakes. Pass additional Parmesan at the table and (if desired) plain blanched kale leaves. If you like meat, chunks of Italian sausages would work well too.
The sauce will keep for a good week in the fridge. It can be used as a dip, a side vegetable, spoon some of scrambled eggs, toss some with couscous or rice.
Source: recipe inspired by Joshua McFadden “Kale Sauce with Any Noodles” in his Six Seasons cookbook