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The kale is wonderful this year. Not just my own three rows in the vegetable patch but everyone else’s I have seen, too. Leaving mine till they get a flash of mellowing frost, I have been buying the curly-edged plumes by the armful from the Saturday market. We ate them three times last week. Twice as a side dish with a seasoning of crisp garlic and red chillies, and another quickly sizzled with olive oil and a scattering of smoky, rust-red chorizo and crunchy almonds.
This is a good time generally for greens eaters. Tight, sweet cauliflowers are around, and offer a gentle alternative to the more strident members of the brassica family. Earlier in the week a couple of those cauliflowers found their way under a crisp crust of crumbs, oats and sunflower seeds — a less rich version of the classic cauliflower cheese. It appeared as a main course.
Cabbages are looking tempting, too. Heavy to carry home from the shops, their many layers will provide plenty of opportunities to eat well throughout the coming week. The outer leaves, roughly the size of a dinner plate, are just begging to be stuffed, a tasty wrapping for a generously seasoned filling. One based on softened onions, brown rice or pearled spelt and given texture with chopped walnuts, raisins or maybe dried cranberries.
Those big beefy soups of beans and root vegetables come to life when you add a last minute handful of shredded cabbage or kale. They need only a minute or two in the soup before you serve them. The neat heads of inner leaves of the cabbage family make invigorating salads. Pecan nuts, toasted macadamias and little shards of crisp smoked bacon lift them out of the ordinary. A pungent dressing of walnut oil, lemon and smooth mustard would set the cabbage’s pulse racing.
I do think a good frosting makes kale and the darker greens milder and sweeter. No real proof, of course, other than my own taste. Or maybe it is just another reason why I can’t get enough of this crisp, finger-numbing weather. Good-quality chorizo is not the cheapest of meats, but a little goes a long way.
Kale with chorizo and almonds
Serves 2 as a light main course, 4 as a side dish.
250g curly kale
250g cooking chorizo
a little groundnut or sunflower oil
50g skinned whole almonds
a clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
Wash the kale thoroughly — the leaves can hold grit in their curls. Put several of the leaves on top of one another and shred them coarsely, discarding the really thick ends of the stalks as you go.
Cut the chorizo into thick slices. Warm a frying pan over a moderate heat, add the slices of chorizo and fry till the pieces are golden. Lift them out with a draining spoon on to a dish lined with kitchen paper. Discard the oil that has come out of the chorizo and wipe the frying pan clean.
Add the almonds and cook for 2 or 3 minutes till pale gold then lift out and add to the chorizo.
Warm the oil in the pan, add the crushed garlic and shredded greens and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the greens over as they cook, till glossy and starting to darken in colour. Return the chorizo and almonds to the pan, add a little salt and continue cooking till all is sizzling, then tip on to hot plates.
Cauliflower gratin with oat and sunflower seed crust
Any firm, punchy farmhouse cheese will work.
For the vegetables:
3 medium-sized onions
a clove of garlic
2 bushy sprigs of rosemary
2 Tbsp olive oil
800g cauliflower or romanesco
a handful of sprout tops or cabbage leaves
100ml vegetable stock
80g deep-flavoured hard cheese
For the topping:
60g rolled oats
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
40g sunflower seeds
Set the oven at 180degC.
Peel the onions, halve and slice them thickly. Peel the garlic and slice it thinly. Pull the rosemary needles off their stems and chop them. Warm the oil in a large, deep pan, add the onions, garlic and rosemary and let them cook over a moderate heat for a good 15-20 minutes until the onions are pale gold and soft. They will need an occasional stir.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and lightly salt it.
Break the cauliflower into large florets, then slice each one in two or three so you have lots of flat pieces. Widely shred the greens. Add the cauliflower to the water and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until the cauliflower is almost tender to the point of a skewer. Add the greens, give them a minute then lift everything out and drain in a colander.
Lightly butter a baking dish. Tip in the lightly drained cauliflower and greens. Season the cream and vegetable stock with salt and black pepper and pour over. Grate the cheese and scatter over, reserving a small handful.
To make the topping, mix the oats, breadcrumbs and sunflower seeds and pile on to the vegetables. Add the reserved cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or so till the crust is golden brown.