Kale and hearty in the kitchen

YES TO KALE: The brassica is a dark leafy green - it has to be good for us.
YES TO KALE: The brassica is a dark leafy green - it has to be good for us.

Whether it's the main ingredient in a green smoothie or smothered in oil and oven baked, kale has made its way into the most fashionable of kitchens.

Suddenly, in the quiet of the night, winter appears to have settled in. Chill air whistles through the gaps of the house; knee rugs, wool socks, heaters and silly hats have been retrieved from cupboards. The slow cooker has found its way from the back shed to the kitchen, and hardier greens like kale, cavolo nero and brussels sprouts have become appealing.

Kale, formerly hippy territory, has become so popular it's now available, conveniently bagged, in supermarkets. People are eating it oven baked with a little olive oil and sea salt as a healthy chip substitute, stuffing it through the feed shoots of juicers, blending it in power-blenders for smoothies.

If a vegetable qualifies for 15 minutes of fame, now is the cult of kale. For those not yet familiar, I can say that it tastes like a cross between cabbage and broccoli. There is no doubt that it is a chlorophyll-filled vegetable; very green, slightly bitter, reminiscent of something a cow may eat, or burp back up.

The raising of kale on to a culinary pedestal accords with the not-so-new understanding that green foods are good for you. At the extreme end, this leads to the taking of chlorophyll tablets and potions mostly in an attempt to cleanse the blood. Then there are the green-juice acolytes who probably also enjoy a wheatgrass shot for kicks (I am one of these). Followed by those of us who grow it and therefore use it in a normal cooking-for-the-family way. Lagging behind are the kids still sitting at the table who have refused to eat it (holding out most likely for pizza or icecream).

Kale is easy to grow. Just bung it in the ground anywhere you would plant broccoli or cabbages - it is a member of the brassica family. It is a non-heading plant, so no need to wait for the broccoli or cabbage head to form. A handy pick-and-go plant, I just pull leaves off as I need them, shred the softer part and discard the stalk. This method of prep holds true for all kales - curly, red, black or cavolo nero. Kales work best when cooked with other things. Lovely in a minestrone or a casserole, they will stand up to reheating as the leaves have quite a firm structure. The idea of a pile of boiled kale is not appealing on its own. But if you are determined to chew through a pile of plain kale then the sort tossed in olive oil and salt and baked at a high temperature is the best way to go about it.

Tossing kale in olive oil and salt before doing most things with it is wise. I do this before adding it as a topping on a pizza, and in today's pasta dish. It turns a wimpy pasta into a dish with gusto. Served up with stunning fish, a little lemon and wholemeal spaghetti, this simple supper will stave off winter chills.

Sunday Star Times