Here in Colorado, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, our growing season is pitifully short. We brace for storms as early as October and as late as May, and many an untimely freeze has devastated the average gardener. But as the tomatoes wither, as the peppers perish and zucchini becomes a fond but distant memory of the past, our kale lives (or struggles) on.
Last November, after a premature snowstorm that felled a giant cottonwood in my yard and turned most of my garden into a frozen mess, the kale thrived beneath a makeshift hoop house and a heavy blanket of snow. Thus inspired, we fortified the garden cover, and now a tiny farm of kale, chard, spinach, arugula, escarole, cabbage, chives and half a dozen herbs are happily wintering over until April.
If you’re in a more temperate region of the country, local farms may still offer kale, and the rest of us can find several not-quite-local varieties in the markets and grocery stores. Tuscan kale—also called Lacinato, dinosaur kale or Cavalo Nero—has a nubby, rugged texture that holds up especially well in stews and roasting. Curly varieties are tender enough for quick sautéing and raw salads, and Red Russian kale, sturdy as a weed, has green-purple leaves that add color and antioxidants.. All varieties of kale are types of crucifers (like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts), and are rich in compounds that help prevent cancer, curb inflammation, and may reduce cholesterol. These recipes use three different varieties of kale, but you can generally substitute one for another. And while black truffle salt doesn’t grow on any farm I know of, it’s still a lovely addition to this early winter meal.
White Bean, Carrot and Kale Stew
Red Russian kale is outstanding in the hearty stew, but Tuscan kale is a beautiful stand-in as well. This simple classic soup is one of our winter staples; we used heirloom carrots in three different colors, which yielded beautiful results. Peeled and cubed pumpkin or winter squash are other delicious seasonal additions. You can also add pasta shells or orzo toward the end of cooking time, or stir in pieces of day-old bread for a ribolitta-style soup.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
6 cups homemade or high-quality chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 pound white beans, soaked overnight
1 large sprig rosemary
1 3-inch chunk of Parmigianno-Regianno cheese rind
1 large bunch of kale
4 large or 5 medium carrots
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
1.Heat olive oil in a medium soup pot. Saute onion for 2–3 minutes, until just softened; add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer, stirring. Add broth, beans, rosemary sprig and cheese, if using. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until beans are tender but not mushy.
2.While the soup simmers, cut stems and center ribs from kale, and cut leaves into small pieces. If carrots are very slender, cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. If carrots are thicker, cut into a medium (1/2-inch) dice.
3.When beans are nearly tender, stir in kale, carrots and red pepper flakes. Cook for 10 minutes more, until carrots and kale are tender. Fish out the rosemary and cheese rind, and season the soup to taste with salt and coarse black pepper.
4.To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with additional olive oil, and shower with chopped parsley. Serve hot.
Next: Kale, Apple and Pear Salad with Honey-Spiced Walnuts and Tuscan Kale Chips with Black Truffle Salt