Top Five O...M...G...part 1

Frequently I find myself in the kitchen when I am prepping food thinking, "I love this food so much that it would totally be a desert island food for me."  I think it when I am shopping amidst the throngs at the veggie cooler at Trader Joe's, when I am eating it at work at my desk with a sigh of relief and appreciated comfort in the middle of my day.  I have a very long list of those foods.  I think a brief blog series may be in order.  

Long before High Fidelity came out, I would partake in the Top Five game.  You know the one.  It's a great conversation starter at dinner parties or a slam dunk first date ice breaker that gives all sorts of insight into folks' warped worlds.  Top Five Places You Want to Travel or Top Five Desserts of All Time or Top Five Bands From the 80's.  It's a great game that you can do anywhere with absolutely anyone.  Today we are playing Top Five Desert Island Foods.  The rules are minimal.  Any food, in any combination (mac-n-cheese can count as one) with an unlimited supply and no regard for how it is stored on a desert island.  No logistics please (of course we can store ice cream with no electricity).  We simply cannot be shackled.

Today I am giving you one of mine a few different ways.  In no particular order, I'll begin with 


It is a humble green.  Some would overlook it in a minute.  It is tough, bitter, and highly unglamorous.  But say what you will about it, it will grow in any climate.  ANY.  CLIMATE.  Do you hear me?  It is currently 35 degrees here and last night we brought in at least a pound of it out of the garden.  It was scarred, tough, beat up from the frost, but dammit it still tasted like sunshine and dirt.  It grows in August when it is 110 degrees with no water and the tomatoes are splitting on the vine, it grows in February when it is snowing.  I LOVE THIS GREEN.  I love it's taste, crunch, and the way it wakes my mouth up when I eat it.  I love the deep color and the texture that it has from the curly leaf.  I love it raw, cooked, braised, sautéed, in a salad, in a dish, oiled, salted, and cooked until its a chip; any way you want to cook it.  I have found 1,098,375 recipes for kale.  Apparently there are other folks out there that love it as much as I do. 

We have a new cookbook here from Chef Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill called Fire in My Belly that is proving to be a new winner.  The year we were engaged, Steven took us to Woodfire Grill in Atlanta to celebrate.  It is easily in the Top Five Meals of All Time for us and ranks just under our wedding dinner.  It was a chef's tasting menu that was MIND NUMBINGLY GOOD.  Senses romanced, life changing food.  He put out a new cookbook a couple of months ago and Santa was good enough to bring it for Christmas.  

Last night was a comfort food night with Fried Chicken, Garden Green Beans, Mac-n-Cheese, and Tomato Braised Kale with Creamy Grits.  Now I love greens any way you want to cook them, but last night that kale was take me to a higher place good.  It was O...M...G...RIDICULOUS good.  I hardly noticed the rest of the dinner.  

Braising greens is one of my very favorite ways to cook them.  It is low maintenance and if you need the stove top space, it is great to throw the whole pot in the oven.  The recipe is below.  I added 1 Tbs of sugar to them also because the kale was not a "Tender Young Green", but we are not discriminating here.  Tender greens would not need the sugar.  

Tomato Braised Greens
Chef Kevin Gillespie

2 pounds Tender Young Greens (Collard, Kale, or Turnip)
3/4 cup bacon, chopped
1 cup diced onion
8 cloves garlic, minced
2- 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 cup smoked pork or chicken stock
3/4 cup brewed coffee
1 Jalapeño, sliced crossways
1 Tbs salt
2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 tsp Fresh Thyme leaves

Fill a 4 quart stock pot with 3 quarts of water and bring to a rapid boil.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Line a baking sheet with a dry dish towel.

Cut off and discard tough stems from greens, then coarsely chop.  Drop the greens into the boiling water and blanch until the greens are a shade brighter than they were and just start to wilt, about 2 minutes.  Using tongs, transfer greens to ice bath and swirl to cool.  Transfer them to kitchen towel to drain.  

Heat Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add bacon and cook until it is crispy and the fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.  Using your hands, squeeze tomatoes into the pot, breaking all of them up and adding all of the juice.   Stir in the stock, coffee, jalapeño, salt, red pepper flakes, thyme, and greens.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then cut the heat down and simmer (or place in a 400 degree oven) until slightly thickened, about 1 hour. 

Stupid good.  Go cook it now.  He recommends it with creamy grits and I concur.  That tomato braising liquid wants to be on some grits.

Another favorite was on our Thanksgiving menu this year.   I could eat this salad every day.  

Kale and Apple Salad with Pancetta
Chef Ryan Hardy

2 cups candied pecans
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, finely diced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons caper brine (from a jar of capers)
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into matchsticks
1 large head radicchio, shredded
One 8-ounce bunch kale—stems discarded, leaves finely shredded
3 tablespoons snipped chives
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
2 ounces shaved pecorino

In a skillet, heat the oil with the pancetta and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is browned, 6 minutes. Strain the pan drippings into a large bowl; whisk in the vinegar, caper brine and maple syrup and season the dressing with salt and black pepper. Add the apples, radicchio, kale, chives, tarragon and pecorino and toss. Mound the salad on plates, garnish with the pecans and pancetta and serve.

Last but not least is a weeknight supper favorite of mine that I Frankensteined one night..  This is the I-am-totally-broke-and-exhausted-but-I-have-2 dozen-eggs-in-the-fridge-and-a-crop-of-kale meal.  

Kale Frittata

1 bunch of kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped
1 large shallot diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 large eggs (depending on how big your skillet is), beaten
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
2 Tbs fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp Salt
Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to Broil.  In a large iron skillet sauté shallot and garlic in olive oil.  Add kale and cover with lid until kale has wilted and some of the liquid has evaporated.  Add chopped herbs and salt and pepper to egg mixture.  Add egg mixture to skillet and cook about 1-2 minutes, gently breaking the egg up so that the uncooked egg gets to the bottom of the pan.  Do not scramble.  Cook until bottom is just set.  Remove from heat and sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over the top.  Place under broiler until top of eggs is set and is golden brown.  Remove from broiler.  Slice and serve. 

That is the beginning of kale love.  This is going to be one of a small series of my favorite recipes for a few favorite foods.  We are beginning the garden planning here and I am so excited about the garden this year!  I have recommitted myself to getting it right!  Wish us luck.  

In the meantime, go and cook some kale.  Seriously.  And leave me your Top Five.  

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  1. Oh dear this like picking my favorite child! And then it depends on which season I might be on the desert island.

    1. Lard: home rendered from a happy grass fed pig.
    2. Sweet juicy heirloom tomatoes.
    3. Meyers lemons.
    4. Belgium chocolate...... Any!
    5. Any and all greens from a lovely patch of tended garden....