It’s summer in Australia, which means the endless bounty of beautiful seasonal veggies need little more than a sprinkle of salt to show off their delicious sun-soaked flavours. Back in the States, it’s a different story. Winter vegetables have to work a little harder to stand out. But with a little love, the cold season’s heartier offerings can become the centerpiece of your dinner table.
Let’s start with kale. A member of the cabbage family, kale is the quintessential winter vegetable as its flavour takes on a deep sweetness only after the first frost. You’ll find kale in many varieties. Some are grown just for ornamentation (note the stuff on the salad bar), while the edible types range from dark green to a stunning purple. Two of the most common are curly kale with its ruffled edges and a rich green colour and Tuscan kale (aka dinosaur kale or cavolo nero), which sports green-black leaves and a bumpy texture similar to a Tyrannosaurus.
Beautiful to look at, kale is even more striking for it’s nutritional value. Off the charts in vitamins K, A and C, this hearty winter green has been shown to lower cholesterol, fight inflammation and reduce your risk of cancer. Look for richly coloured kale with firm, bouncy leaves. The smaller leaves will cook more quickly, but the larger size holds up nicely to slow cooking.
How to store
Store in a plastic bag on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it’s coolest. Use the dark leafy green within 2 to 3 days. The longer it sits around, the more bitter kale becomes.
How to cook
Unless your kale is very young and tender, the center stalk will be tough and not very tasty. So cut the leaves away from all the fibrous ribs before cooking. Kale works beautifully sautéed, baked into chips, braised or tossed in a soup. You can also chop it up into an amazing winter salad. Keep in mind that raw kale can taste strong. To tone down the bitterness, give it a massage. I swear I’m not kidding. After you remove the ribs, take bunches of kale in each hand and rub together. The kale will take on a darker color and become silkier—in texture and taste.
Give this dark green beauty a try in this warm winter Zuppa Ribollita.