Lacinato Kale: The Star of Italian Peasant Cuisine
Plus a braised Kale recipe from Morello Italian Bistro
How a dusty, blistered leaf so reptilian that an alias is "dinosaur kale" got to be a celebrity is up for conjecture. But a celebrity it is, and has been for quite some time, outlasting those fennel pollen and wood sorrel hipsters.
A staple in Tuscany (another alias is "Tuscan kale") for centuries, lacinato is slightly sweeter than prosaic curly kale, and rivals cabbage and Brussels sprouts in stratospheric nutrition. Cucina Povera would be all the more indigent without hearty lacinato-laden ribollita soup and Modena’s kale, lentil, and cotechino sausage specialty.
Like myriad Italian imports botanical or material, lacinato has thrived this side of the pond and reaches peak flavor after the first frost. That’s right about now, and at Morello Italian Bistro (253 Greenwich Ave, Greenwich, CT 203-661-3443; morellobistro.com), Chef Kevin Garcia has turned up the heat beneath his braising pots and sauté pans. “I like to celebrate authentic Italian cuisine,” he says, and so his Hudson Valley lacinato shines in a robust ribollita with beans, butternut squash, and fennel; in a braise with onion, tomato, and guanciale accompanying pan-seared halibut; and channels Modena with tubes of paccheri pasta, lentils, and cotechino. “Lacinato’s earthy flavor and hardy structure are maintained when cooked,” Garcia notes. “It stands up to braising really well.” That said, it’s no slouch sliced raw in his salad of pecorino and lemon.
Not bad for a dusty old dinosaur. In Greenwich and all points beyond, I say long may it roam.
Braised Kale with Guanciale, Onion, and Tomato
Courtesy of Kevin Garcia, Morello Italian Bistro
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 cup guanciale (cured pork jowl), sliced thin (pancetta or smoked bacon can be substituted)
3 bunches lacinato kale, washed, dried, ribs discarded, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1 28-oz can Italian tomatoes in purée (preferably San Marzano)
¼ Tbsp crushed red pepperflakes
Salt (preferably kosher) to taste
In a high-rimmed sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, and guanciale and cook until onion begins to caramelize and guanciale begins to crisp. Lower heat and add kale to pan, cooking about 3 to 4 minutes, until kale is wilted. Stir in tomatoes with purée. Add pepper flakes and salt, cover pan and cook slowly 20 to 25 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Excellent served with grilled or roasted pork chops, or in pasta with sausage and lentils.