Kale, how did I miss you?

Kale with Pasta Chilli and GarlicThere are some ingredients that I genuinely get excited about cooking and eating. When I considered the packet of kale I had bought earlier on Friday and pondered how I might prepare it I was clear that this was not one of them.

My introduction to kale as a child was not a good one. In fact, you could liken it to a head-on collision as an appetiser to the thrills of car travel. It was not at home (my Mum bears no blame whatsoever) and to this day I’m not quite sure what had taken place between the point it left the greengrocers and when it arrived on my plate. What I can be sure of is that I did not enjoy the result.

You may well be asking why on earth did I go and buy some now? I was asking myself much the same question right up to the point we sat down to eat. But, what I tasted was nothing like my memories of childhood. The bitter taste was replaced by something quite sweet, the khaki hue replaced with vibrant green. How on earth had I spent the last 25 years missing one of the very best vegetables I’ve ever tasted?

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that kale and I have some catching up to do, and the combining it with pasta and some spice is a really quick and easy way to do it. This recipe for kale with pasta, garlic and chilli is incredibly versatile and can be adjusted to taste and whatever you have to hand. We used penne, but I reckon it would work just as well with tagliatelle or even gnocchi. Adding the kale to the pasta water for the last couple of minutes of cooking saves on washing up, but we will probably steam it above, or in a separate pan next time we cook the dish as it preserves the nutrients better.

Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely sliced
300g dried penne pasta
200g kale, shredded and rinsed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp chilli flakes
Parmesan cheese and black pepper to serve

Method
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion on a low heat until it’s soft and translucent. Then add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a while longer so the onion starts to caramelise.
2. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Either add the kale for the last couple of minutes (we liked it with some bite but you could give it longer) or steam it for 3-4 mins.
3. When the pasta and kale have finished cooking, take the pan with the onions off the heat then stir in the pasta and kale to spread the flavours evenly. Season to taste if it needs it.
4. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese (or an equivalent) and black pepper to serve.

Roasted vegetable pasta sauce

This is a simple and delicious sauce to serve over pasta and a great way to get veg into children who are less than keen on the idea! You can vary the vegetables you use according to what’s available, and its also a great way of using vegetables that are slightly past their best. This recipe makes a generous portion for 4 or you can make extra and freeze.

Ingredients
1 Aubergine
1 Courgette
1 Carrot, peeled
1 Red pepper
3 Cloves of garlic
2 tbsp Olive oil
2 400g packets of Passata (or you can use cans of chopped tomatoes)
Fresh basil or oregano (optional)

Method
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (gas mark 4)
2. Slice the aubergine, courgette and carrot into pieces that are around half a centimetre thick. We peel the aubergine and courgette first as one of our children is very sensitive to textures and this makes a smoother sauce.
3. Slice the pepper, discarding the stalk and the seeds. Do not peel the garlic cloves.
4. In a large bowl toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil making sure they are covered. The aubergine is greedy, absorbing oil very easily so its best to do it last. (For a healthier version you can use less oil and spray it onto the veg).
5. Spread the veg and garlic over a couple of baking trays and place in the oven for around 25-30 mins. The aubergine will go dark brown but mustn’t burn.
6. Squeeze the softened flesh of the roasted garlic cloves from the skin and add to the passata, followed by the vegetables. At this point you may wish to add some herbs such as fresh basil or oregano for additional flavour.
7. Blend everything together to a consistency that suits you. For smoothest results do it in batches using a blender, but you can also use a food processor or hand blender.
8. Heat the combined sauce through in a saucepan and serve over pasta, seasoned to taste.

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