I was eating dinner with my parents, and my 80 year-old father, who doesn't sugarcoat his opinions, said that he didn't like kale. o be more precise, he was chewing with effort and his face was contorted with a look of disgust. Then, as he half swallowed and half gagged he dissed the green currently favored by trend-spotters and healthy eaters. It was a texture thing, and one I've heard from others. Now I had a sort of culinary puzzle to solve. How to turn kale into something other than kale?
In this case the solution was pretty easy. With a food processor (or blender) and some pantry basics I turned kale into pesto. The proverbial sow's ear was now a smooth-if-not-quite-silky green sauce that can turn store-bought gnocchi (or pasta) into dinner.
When I make pesto with basil I put all the ingredients into a food processor and puree. With basil you can even use a mortar and pestle, but that's a lot of grinding and mashing so it's the kind of chore I assign in a teambuilding class, as opposed to doing of my own volition.
But kale isn't an herb like basil, and its leaves are pretty tough by comparison. Before grinding it to a pulp it benefits from being roughly chopped and then tossed into a pot of boiling salted water. I like to toss in a couple of cloves of garlic as well. The kale and garlic get pureed, and I use some of the cooking water to thin the pesto. I use less olive oil when I use the water, so the pesto is lighter -- in terms of both calories and texture. Raw pecans add sweetness and a pleasant nutty flavor to the pesto. The pecans also give the pesto more body than I'd get with only pureed leaves. Fresh lemon juice, olive oil, a little nutmeg, and some salt and pepper finish the pesto. I used a Meyer lemon, which is sweeter than a regular lemon, but any lemon will work. I made a conscious decision not to add grated cheese to the pesto. My go-to recipe for basil pesto uses Parmesan, but I wanted to keep the kale pesto vegan. The addition of a cheese would only make it better.
I like to keep a package or two of gnocchi in the pantry, which like pasta comes in handy when I'm making dinner on the fly. Admittedly, this is most of the time when I'm not cooking at work. Topped with a little slivered shallot and fresh red pepper the gnocchi with kale pesto makes a hearty dinner. Bottom line: Even if you're not impressed with kale, it's hard not to like pesto.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.
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