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kale + mozzarella salad

As tomatoes become grainy and corn becomes starchy, and many other summer vegetables flame out or fade away, kale—at least in Connecticut—is a vegetable that makes the transition with us from spring, to summer, to fall. A lot of the kale we are getting here now is hardier than usual, maybe with a touch of frost burn around the edges. But it’s no less delicious and no less welcome for those blemishes, at a time of year when our fairer summer friends take their leave from the kitchen.

Nothing can be simpler than making a raw kale salad for supper. You can make it a million different ways. In fact, I had every intention that this particular salad would in fact be one of those different ways: a raw kale, lemon and avocado salad. But the avocado I’d been ripening all week had other plans. (Don’t you hate it when you slice into an avocado, one that you’ve been babying along to ripeness, only to discover it is slimy and brown inside?) Luckily I had a nice ball of fresh mozzarella in the refrigerator, ready to take its place beside finely sliced kale, red onions, and lemon juice. The key with any raw kale salad is to rub it down properly with an acid, like lemon juice, and then olive oil—at least 15 or 30 minutes before you plan to eat. (Be warned: if you have an office job where you tend to get paper cuts, you better be a masochist to undertake this particular procedure.) The acid and oil kind of “cook” the kale a bit—it will still be verdant and crunchy, but a little easier to eat. I like to mellow it out with something a bit fatty (in this case mozzarella and not avocado) and make sure just before supper that the whole thing is properly salted after all. (Sometimes I find I need to add a bit more salt at the end.) Enjoy improvising on this theme over the next few weeks, a not insignificant consolation in the face of fall.

Kale + mozzarella salad

  • 2 bunches (about 20 large leaves) of lacinato kale, washed and cut into a fine chiffonade
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella
  • freshly cracked black pepper

1. Combine the finely sliced kale, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands, massage the lemon juice into the kale leaves for about 3 to 4 minutes. Assiduously work it into the leaves. Add olive oil and honey and continue to massage for 1 to 2 more minutes. Set aside while you prepare other dishes, at least 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Just before serving, add onion and mozzarella. Grind black pepper over, to taste. Serve.

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shrimp, collards + grits

While Delaware, the place I grew up, is in many ways a southern place, shrimp and grits is not the sort of thing we ever would have eaten at home. Let’s face it, “southern” cooking cuts a wide swath through the American culinary repertoire, and while you would probably recognize much of what we cooked at home as “southern”—biscuits, cornbread, fried chicken, homestyle (i.e. well boiled and usually with a pork product) vegetables all played a leading role—taken as a whole, it bore no resemblance to the cooking of the Piedmont, or the Gulf Coast, or southern Appalachia. Nor does the cooking of any of those places bear much resemblance to the cooking of each of the others.

On our family vacations, which were always taken in a vehicle, and never in an airplane, we visited Appalachia, the lower Eastern Shore, the Delaware Water Gap (to the north), and most places in between. I never got to North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, or Florida until I was much older. Ty, though, has traveled throughout the south much more than I have, and has always had a taste for deep-South dishes like shrimp and grits. (Ty points out that he has traveled the SEC East thoroughly, but not the SEC West. I don’t know what this means, but suspect others might.) I never even tasted shrimp and grits until last year, in South Carolina. And let me just say up front—or you can tell me again in the comments—that this dish would absolutely not pass for shrimp and grits in Charleston or anywhere in the low country. In fact, I am pretty sure it would count as heresy. In order to make this into a relatively quick, one-dish meal, I have added fresh chorizo sausage in place of the traditional tasso ham, and I have added a lot of chopped collard greens as well. Instead of using shrimp broth, I have substituted chicken or vegetable, the two kinds I always have on hand.

However, one place where I have not and will not scrimp is when it comes to the grits. I use Anson Mills’ stoneground white grits, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However, if you can’t find stoneground grits, please feel free to substitute whatever grits you have available where you are. (Since I’m busy confessing, I will admit that I once made this dish and served it over a nice, soft polenta. What?! Polenta is also made of corn!) The chunky stoneground grits, if soaked overnight, cook in about 50 minutes (with a little tending), which is about what it takes to prep and cook the rest of the dish. If you want the legitimate low-country version of shrimp and grits, make the delicious rendition available here at the Anson Mills site. Those folks know what they’re doing. This version, though, is pretty darned good.

Shrimp, collards + grits

4 servings as a main course

  • 1 cup stone ground white grits, such as Anson Mills
  • 4 and 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1 lb fresh chorizo sausage links
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb collards, ribs removed, leaves cut into fine chiffonade
  • 1 large or 2 small bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled (fresh or thawed frozen)
  • kosher salt

1. Starting 12 – 24 hours before you make the grits, place the grits into a covered saucepan of at least 3 quarts. Add 2 and 1/2 cups of the water. Stir once, and let grits soak for 12 – 24 hours.

2. After the grits have soaked, place saucepan on burner at medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir constantly for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the lid and turn heat to very low. Meanwhile, bring the other 2 cups of water to a simmer and keep nearby on the stove. As grits thicken, add simmering water 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Cook grits for 45 to 50 minutes, adding simmering water as needed and stirring, replacing the lid after each addition.

3. While the grits are cooking, start the shrimp and collards. Select a heavy, large, lidded skillet or casserole. Add chorizo sausage to the pan and brown very well over medium to medium-high heat. When sausages are well browned on all sides, set them aside. If only a small amount of fat has rendered from the sausages, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium heat, add the onion, and stir and cook until softened. Add collards and stir until coated with oil and wilted. Saute for about 10 minutes. Then add the bay leaf, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Stir well and add tomato paste. Mix well again. (Don’t forget to check and stir your grits, adding more water as needed.)

4. Add white wine to the skillet and simmer until reduced by about half, stirring well. Then add broth and zest and bring to a simmer. Return sausage to the pan and cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove lid, stir well, and add shrimp, tossing well. Replace lid and cook for 5 minutes, until shrimp are pink and cooked through. Taste mixture for salt, and add more, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, as needed.

5. Spoon grits onto warmed dishes and top with shrimp, sausage, and collards mixture. Spoon plenty of the pan gravy over, and serve piping hot.

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kale pesto

Perhaps it’s the influence of the Emerald Isle, or perhaps it’s just the omnipresence of lacinato kale (elsewise known as dinosaur kale, black kale, Tuscan kale, or cavolo nero) at the markets here in New Haven, but it seems like bright, bright green kale is on a run here in our kitchen. Part of what’s at stake here is that we love and adore the lacinato kale and would happily eat it at every meal. So I admittedly find ways to use it. Especially because it is probably the most cost-effective of vegetables. At $1 or $2 per bunch, it is a financially painless way to incorporate fresh local vegetables into our diet. But it’s also incredibly versatile. I use it as a salad, a stuffing, a side dish, a topping—for a time-strapped cook who is trying to work and get meals on the table in the evening, lacinato kale is the ultimate ally.

Some of the trusty sidekicks of kale are evident here: lemon zest, garlic, peperoncini (crushed red pepper), are the constant companions of lacinato kale in this kitchen. This time of year we’re seeing abundant farm-fresh garlic in our local markets. I beg, plead, and cajole you to try it. The flavor is unlike anything you’ll find in the dusty bin of garlic at your supermarket. In fact, if you skipped everything else in this recipe, super-fresh garlic and kale on pasta are hardly a bad idea. When you make this pesto, though, you realize the intensity of the kale balanced with the piquancy of the lemon zest. You’ll want to taste the pesto to make sure there is enough salt involved to bring the whole thing into balance—it will be hard to tell until after the cheese is added. And use a nice fruity olive oil as well—it makes all the difference.

And if you’re thinking, “what does she mean by fruity olive oil?” just don’t worry about it. Make this anyway, with what you have, the freshest bunch of kale and a head of garlic from the market. You really, seriously, can hardly go wrong.

Kale pesto

Makes enough to dress 1 pound of dried pasta.

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale or curly kale (approximately 10 ounces), washed, ribs removed, torn into pieces
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 and 1/2 ounce grated parmesan, grana padano, or another hard Italian cheese (this was about 3/4 cup grated on the fine holes of my box grater)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the kale a few times to break it up. Add garlic, zest and juice of lemon, crushed red pepper, and salt. Pulse until finely chopped. Add cheese and then leave the motor running while drizzling in the olive oil through the opening in the top of the processor. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl as necessary.

2. Refrigerate or freeze immediately, or toss with hot pasta and serve.

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open-faced egg sandwiches w chard, bacon + garlic

Good morning! I have just returned from a delightful vacation in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and am having a wee problem with jet lag, leading to my rising and posting at an absurdly early hour. I had stacked up the posts that you all have been reading the last two weeks before I left, including this one. However, when thinking of Ireland, a country that knows how to appreciate breakfast for the fine and substantial meal it was meant to be, this post seemed particularly appropriate for this morning. I believe I gained approximately 12 pounds during my vacation, and much of that can be attributed to the delightful breakfasts we were served throughout the countryside. Near as I could tell—after a fairly thorough survey—the Full Irish Breakfast involves: sausage, Irish bacon, eggs, a potato farl, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. When we moved on to Northern Ireland we experienced the Ulster Fry, which reincorporates the more British element of beans, something delicious called a soda farl, and more frequently includes white and black puddings.

As you can imagine, lunch is not really necessary after having had such a breakfast. A pint of Guinness is enough to get you through the afternoon, perhaps with a bag of crisps (prawn cocktail and pickled onion being among my favorite potato chips on the trip). In any case, it is difficult to transition back to life without those glorious breakfasts, I will tell you that. I do intend to learn to make the potato farl, or boxty, as well as the soda farl. I will be experimenting with recipes, and will be sure to share them here if I can pin down the perfect construction. (Let me know if you have any farl recipes—I feel these are items for which everyone must have her own family recipe!)

Anyway, it happens that we made these open-faced sandwiches for breakfast on a weekend morning, but we have decided this would be equally delicious for supper. You can decide which you’d prefer. I’ve been buying this really delicious applewood-smoked bacon and using a few slices to doctor up greens in the evening. The key here is to brown the bacon really well, but over medium heat so the fat renders without smoking. I wish I had some of that divine Irish bacon here, but alas, American will have to do for now.

Open-faced egg sandwiches with chard, bacon + garlic

  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 3 cloves very fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1 bunch (about 8 ounces) Swiss chard, washed, spun dry, chopped well
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 thick slices of bread for toasting
  • coarse or kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large skillet (if you have one large enough, select one that will fit 4 fried eggs with extra room to hold the chard mixture later), warm bacon over medium heat. Slowly let the fat render and let the bacon completely caramelize. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two, until garlic is very fragrant and is becoming translucent.Turn the heat to medium high and add the chard. Saute it, stirring constantly to allow moisture to evaporate. When chard is wilted and tender, yet still bright green, scrape it to the side if there is room in your skillet. (If not, put the chard aside and cover with foil to keep it warm.)

2. Toast your bread slices. While they’re toasting, pour olive oil into skillet and warm it over medium heat. Crack all four eggs into the skillet and let them fry until solid on the bottom. (After the first minute, loosen them with your spatula so they’re easier to flip.) Gently flip each egg, trying not to break the yolk. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and a healthy grinding of pepper on the center of each egg.

3. Assemble sandwiches. Place toast on a plate or in a shallow dish. Top each toast with one-quarter of the chard-bacon mixture and then one egg. Serve piping hot with a knife and a fork.

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