Speaking of China, it's exciting to know that the rose quartz, ruby, amethyst, ivory and jade of ornamental kales adorn gardens all over the Orient and across Europe and Britain. I wish I could tell you that the kales from these gardens come into kitchens and are sent to tables in splendor. But I can't because they don't--and aren't.
Only Portugal, Scotland, Ireland, a corner in the north of Italy and pockets in Holland appreciate kale properly. The national dish of Portugal is kale and potato soup-- caldo verde . Irish cooks mix finely chopped kale with mashed potatoes and spoon it up with pools of butter--colcannon (which is also made with cabbage). In Scotland, kale is simmered in stock and the soup is thickened with barley, oats or rice--kale brose. An Italian spoon-stands-up-in-it soup of white beans, pasta, tomatoes and garlic is given depth of color and taste with rags of kale-- pasta e fagioli verdi. And wearing a Greek cap, I turn a broth speckled with kale into a lemon-tangy egg-creamy avgolemono.
So it's up to us to rouse the gardeners of the world into growing and eating kale!
Let's begin with a dish inspired by a Dutch classic. It's wonderful when you can have intriguing shapes of leaves in front of you. How many cooked leaves can you think of that are more than a nebulous heap on the plate? Kale leaves, whether deeply cut or nattily curled, are sculpture.
If you have sensational sausages--something like the designer chicken and turkey I found the other day made with "fire-roasted red peppers, cilantro, spices, and garlic"--you can give this to friends for supper. Pass a basket of radishes, black olives and carrot sticks. Drink a Dutch lager. Let mellow Edam cheese follow. Then for dessert, chopped candied ginger pressed into the icing of a bittersweet chocolate cake.
And best invite Aunt Maude . . . .
Fresh: Curly and ornamental kales at markets with fine produce, and perhaps Red Russian at farmers markets.
Mail-order seeds: "Red & White Peacock"--listed under Flowering Cabbage and Kale--from Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527-0308. "Dwarf Blue Curled Vates" from Lockhart Seeds, Box 1361, Stockton, Calif. 95205. All others mentioned from Shepherd's, 6116 Highway 9, Felton, Calif. 95018.
\o7 Peacock kales wilt rapidly once picked, so cook them ASAP. But don't cook in a skillet, even with moisture. The leaves will turn drab and tough. Boiling them in a pot of water intensifies their hues and renders them tender. Unfortunately, unless the leaves are very young, the stalks are too fibrous to enjoy.
To prepare and cook kale (and other leaves with tough stalks), swish in lots of cold water. If home-grown, soak 30 minutes to float any aphids, then rinse well again. Fold each leaf lengthwise. Run a sharp knife along the inside of the stalk, freeing the pair of greens. Leave greens whole or chop as desired; if stalks are tender, chop and cook separately. This is less a soup than a meal in one with its broth. Add more broth if you'd like it soupier.
\f7 DUTCH SAUSAGES AND POTATOES IN PEACOCK'S BROTH
6 cups cold water
1 pound unpeeled small red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound tender peacock leaves or other kale
1 quart beef broth
1 pound richly flavored lean ready-to-eat sausages, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Freshly ground pepper
Coarse ground mustard
Bring cold water to boil in broad heavy saucepan. Set potatoes in steaming basket over water, cover and steam until tender.
Meanwhile, remove stalks from kale. Chop greens roughly (if tender, save stalks for another time).
When potatoes are cooked, remove in basket. Add beef broth to steaming liquor and bring to boil. Drop in kale leaves, pushing beneath broth. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat until nearly tender. Thin ornamental leaves about 7 minutes, peacock and Red Russian leaves about 10 minutes, thicker curled leaves about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add sausages and potatoes to pot. Cover, turn heat to low and simmer until sausages are plump, about 6 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over nutmeg. Serve in flat soup plates, passing coarse mustard on side. Makes 4 main dish servings.
Each serving contains about:
427 calories; 1,827 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 20 grams protein; 2.18 grams fiber.