Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

In today’s post I am featuring two items with several recipes.  I apologize for the length of the article, but since I cannot yet refer back to former Simply Fresh posts, I wanted to make sure all information was included in this new post.  Read it in shifts, but do read it…and enjoy!

Featured item One—Red Russian Kale

Red Russian Kale is so pretty, you could just eat it!  Those reddish-purple veined blue-green leaves with frilly edges are not only gorgeous, but are hardier, sweeter, more tender, and thus, more quick cooking, than many other varieties of kale.

Like other kinds of kale, Red Russian is a member of the brassica family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.  In general, kale is a highly nutritious vegetable, boasting high level of beta carotene, vitamins A, K, and C, B6, calcium, and magnesium.  It also contains significant amounts of fiber, protein, folate, and iron, and many antioxidants.

Kale has traditionally been thought of as “tough” green that needs to be cooked.  However, kale salads are becoming increasingly popular.  One recent trend is to “massage” kale greens.  Yes, that’s right, massage!.  This simply means literally rubbing raw kale greens gently between one’s fingers, either with or without oil.  This process softens the fibers of the leaves and makes for a more tender result.  Check out the attached article from the LA Times that describes this interesting process.  LA Times Article

I tried the “massage” method of tenderizing kale and found it does work to a considerable extent.  The leaves do get softer and less fibrous, but be warned, they still retain a significant amount of texture.  If you find raw kale a bit tough for your tastes, try this method and see if it doesn’t change your mind.

Another great use for raw kale is fruit smoothies.  While it might add an unusual color to your typical smoothie, it won’t scream “vegetable”.  In fact, your family members aren’t likely to even detect it.  Yet you get so much added nutritional value.

Of course, cooking kale is a delicious option as well.  One of my family’s favorite ways to eat kale is baked kale chips.  See my highly popular recipe for Lacinato Kale Chips (reprinted below), which can be utilized with any kind of kale, including the Red Russian variety.

Kale is wonderful blanched, steamed, braised, sautéed and even fried.  It is great in soups and stews because it keeps its texture even when cooked for long periods of time.  However, it will take longer to cook than more tender leafy greens, like chard.  Just remember when sautéing kale that it helps to add a bit of liquid and to cover the pot for a few minutes to really get the leaves tender.

Many people prefer not to cook kale stems, as they can be tough.  If you wish to try cooking stems, try adding the thinnest or youngest looking stems and chop them into small pieces.  Reserve larger stems for making vegetable broth.

Kale will keep best wrapped in plastic and stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator, where it will keep for about 5 days.  Avoid leaves that are wilted and/or yellowed.

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My family really enjoyed this recipe for braised kale.  In fact, it should serve four people, but the three of us gobbled the whole thing up in one sitting!  The only complaint?…no leftovers.

Kielbasa and Kale Braised in Beer                                                            Serves 3-4

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 13 ounce package Turkey Kielbasa, sliced

– 2 teaspoons olive oil

– 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 cup mild flavored beer

– 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

– 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

– ¼ teaspoon salt

– 6 cups chopped kale, dried

METHOD:

1. In a 12-inch non-stick skillet brown sausage lightly over medium-high heat.  Using a slotted spoon transfer sausage to a medium bowl.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add 2 teaspoons olive oil.  When oil is hot, add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

2. Meanwhile, mix beer, mustard, mustard seed and salt in a small bowl.  Once garlic is sautéed with the onion, add beer mixture to pan.  Increase heat and bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add sausage and kale.  Mix well and cover pan.   Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until kale is tender.

Lacinato Kale Chips                                                                                    makes 2 trays

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 bunch Lacinato or Red Russian kale

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

– 1/4-1/2  teaspoon garlic salt

METHOD:

1.  Arrange racks in mid and lower third oven positions.  Preheat oven to 300.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment.

2.  Wash kale leaves well and pat completely dry with paper towel.

3.  Cut leaves in half lengthwise and then remove rib (at least 2/3’s up).  Cut leaves crosswise into 3 pieces.

4.  In a large bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt.  Add kale leaves and toss well with hands, rubbing leaves between your fingers to distribute the oil mixture and to coat the leaves completely.  Taste and add more garlic salt if desired.

5.  Divide kale pieces between the two baking sheets, laying them completely flat and trying not to overlap any pieces.

6.  Bake in oven for about 15-20 minutes, switching baking sheets on racks after 10 minutes.   Kale chips should be airy and crisp.  Avoid browning them or they will get bitter.

NOTES:

Try sprinkling with parmesan as it first comes out of the oven.

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Featured Item Two—Basil

Our Farm Manager, Karen Pettinelli, mentioned to me that the basil is in full force now and that members should be encouraged to take advantage of it.  Therefore, I decided to re-print one of my past posts on basil, while offering a few new recipes and ideas.

Few herbs seem as ubiquitous or as well-loved as sweet basil.  It is the quintessential herb of high summer, making plain or ordinary foods fairly sing with flavor.  It is a member of the Ocimum genus, along with thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint.  Although it appears to have originated in India, it is central to Italian, Southeast Asian, and Northeast Asian cuisine.  It was largely popularized in this country with the introduction of Italian pesto–a mixture of basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  Today pesto is widely used to dress pasta, salads, grilled vegetables, and sandwiches.  It is hard to imagine a life today without our beloved pesto!

Basil is an herb that grows best in the hot humid heat of mid-summer.  However, it is a remarkably delicate herb in other ways.  It’s flavor quickly dissipates in cooking, so it best used raw or at the very end of the cooking process.  Keeping clipped basil fresh is a challenge.  It is best to have some stem available so that you can place it in a glass of cool water and simply leave it on the counter at room temperature.  Refrigerating basil tends to make it turn an unsavory black quite quickly, although you can slow this process down by wrapping basil leaves in damp paper towels before placing them in the refrigerator.  Do not wash the leaves until just before using or else they become wilted and can turn black even more quickly.

I was interested to learn that basil has been considered for centuries to have medicinal qualities, particularly digestive and antibiotic.  In general, basil is quite a healthful herb, offering good amounts of many vitamins and minerals, and being a good source for fiber and protein.

I decided not to give a formal recipe for pesto, because frankly, pesto is one of the most forgiving items you can make in the kitchen, and what you put into it can completely depend on what you like or what you don’t, or even what you happen to have on hand.

Traditionally, basil pesto contains handfuls of fresh basil leaves, a clove or two of garlic, about a ¼ cup of toasted pine nuts, and about ¼- ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, pureed with about ¼ cup or more of olive oil until a nice paste forms. However, you can use more or less garlic, completely leave out the cheese, or even use substitutes for the pine nuts, if you are so inclined.  Many different nuts are great substitutes for pine nuts in pesto, such as walnuts, pecans, or almonds.  You can even cut the basil with other herbs such as parsley, if pure basil is too much for you.

What I would like to focus on here, rather than a recipe for pesto per se, is it’s many potential uses.  Here are some ideas for glorious pesto paste!

–a condiment for sandwiches, especially paninis

–mixed with a bit of pasta cooking liquid and tossed with fresh cooked pasta

–tossed with grilled vegetables and/or chicken

–stirred into soups

–made into a vinaigrette by mixing with vinegar and a bit more oil.  Toss vinaigrette with lettuce, cooled cooked pastas, grilled vegetables, and/or grains for wonderful salads.

–a topping for cooked fish or meats

–mixed with ricotta and used as a stuffing for ravioli or eggplant roll-ups

–on pizzas

–in deviled eggs or other egg dishes

–baked on garlic bread

–mixed with sour cream and a bit of mayo to make a great dip

–tossed with cooked potatoes

–Spread on lamb roast about halfway through cooking

It is tempting to make pesto when basil is abundant, but don’t forget about other wonderful ways to use this herb.  It is excellent…

–in salad dressings and/or salads

–layered in tomato/mozzarella salad or tossed in other fresh tomato dishes

–used in Asian stir-fries or various kinds of curries

–placed in sandwiches

–tossed with pastas

–used to infuse olive oil (see recipe below)

–blended into white sauces like Béchamel

–cooked in marinara sauce

–in soups

–dried and used in other everyday sauces

–blended into home-made hummus

I have come up with a few unique recipes below that offer some alternatives to using basil in pesto.

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 Basil Coconut Biscotti                                                            makes about 3 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

– 3/4 cup sugar

– 2 eggs, lightly beaten

– 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

– 2/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

– 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

– 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

– 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Process basil with sugar in food processor until it forms a paste.  Scrap sugar and basil mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and add butter.  Cream until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and extract until just combined.

3. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to the creamed mixture, mixing until just blended.  Fold in nuts and coconut.

4. Divide dough in half.  On a greased and floured baking sheet (or a silpat mat) pat out dough into two logs about 1/2″ high, 1 1/2″ wide and 14″ long, spacing them at least 2″ apart.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Transfer from the baking sheet to a rack.  Let cool for 5 minutes.

5. Place on a cutting board.  With a serrated knife, slice diagonally on a 45 degree angle about 1/2″ thick.  Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes longer, turning them over once, to dry slightly.  Let cool on rack.  Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature or freeze.

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I recently had a delicious and memorable meal at the Hungry Mother restaurant in Cambridge, MA.  They served a smoky grilled tri tip served over grilled romaine, hakurei turnips, and cherry tomatoes drizzled with a delicious basil buttermilk dressing.  I have recreated the dressing in the recipe below.  Try it yourself over grilled romaine (Yum!), grilled meat, fish, or vegetables, or other salads.

Basil Buttermilk Dressing                                                                        makes 2 cups

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 1/4 cups lowfat or nonfat buttermilk

– heaping 1/2 cup, packed fresh basil

– 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

– 1/2 cup light mayonnaise

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

– 1 large clove garlic, minced

METHOD:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Chill until ready to use.  If you prefer a thicker dressing, add more mayonnaise.  This recipe makes a lot, but is easy to halve.

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Basil infused oil adds a wonderful, delicate finishing touch for foods.  Try it drizzled on grilled zucchini or summer squash, tomatoes, pizza, grilled bread, soups, fish or meat, or use it to make salad dressings.  Because basil loses it delicate flavor upon heating, this oil should only be used off heat.

Basil Infused Olive Oil                                                                        Makes ¾ cup

INGREDIENTS:

– 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

– 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

METHOD:

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Meanwhile, prepare a small ice water bath.  Blanch basil for 10 seconds.  Immediately transfer to ice water bath and allow to cool completely.  Remove basil from ice water bath.  Gently squeeze out liquid (I place it in a double layer of paper towel while squeezing to help absorb the water).  Place basil in a blender along with olive oil.  Blend until smooth.  Allow to sit for 45 minutes.  Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth.  Once most of the oil has filtered through, gently pick up cheesecloth and squeeze to extract any remaining oil.  Discard solids.  Add salt and mix well.  Chill until ready to use (will keep for 1 week).

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