Mark Hix: How To Cook With Kale

Mark Hix on why there's more to this 'superfood' than overpriced smoothies

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Every year, a new superfood gets everyone hot under the collar. This year, it’s kale. Remember that tough old cabbage your grandmother used to serve? Well, these trendy new takes on kale are nothing like that. There are a few different varieties of wild cabbage, and I’d say the most pleasing on the palette is curly kale.

More delicate than its straighter-leaved cousin, curly kale has green and purple varieties, which makes it even more of a sexy superfood. There’s also a slightly posher cousin of curly kale, if you’re feeling fancy. Sea kale is an “escape” variety that has found its way from gardens to beaches.

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I like picking this wild stuff from between rocks on the Dorset beaches, particularly the flowers, which taste like the best sprouting broccoli you’ve ever eaten.

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Pasta and Beans with Kale (above)

This is a take on the classic pasta e fagioli, a cross between a soup and a stew, depending on how you want to eat it. This dish is perfect for a winter supper and great to give to kids. Haricot and flageolet beans are quite close to the original beans used which are fagioli di lamon, or you could use any of a number of small, similar-shaped ones, such as cannellini or borlotti. Again, there are many variations on pasta e fagioli where the bacon can be replaced with pork rind, cooked pig’s trotter or cotechino sausage. You can even use black cabbage, very similar to kale.

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Ingredients:

1 onion, peeled and finely diced
2 sticks of celery, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
4 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon or slices   of ham, finely chopped
2 tbsps olive oil
100g haricot beans or similar, soaked overnight   and cooked until tender but not too soft (or 400g tin   of haricot beans, drained)
300g tomatoes,skinned, de-seeded and chopped (or a 200g tin of chopped tomatoes)
500–600ml chicken or vegetable stock (a good cube will do)
80g small pasta such as tubetti, ditalini, rigati
200–250g curly kale, cut into rough 2cm squares
1 tbsp of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

1 | Gently cook the onion, celery, garlic, rosemary and chopped bacon (or ham) in the olive oil for a few minutes until the vegetables are soft.
2 | In a food processor or blender, purée half the beans, then add to the pan with the tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 40mins.
3 | Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente, then drain. Blanch the kale in boiling salted water and drain.
4 | Add the cooked pasta, the whole beans, kale and the parsley to the stew and simmer for a further 10–15mins. The mixture should have a thick, soup-like consistency; add a little more water or stock if necessary. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil, if you like.

Grouse, Curly Kale and Wild Mushroom Salad

Ingredients:

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2 oven-ready grouse
Couple of knobs of butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
120–150g wild mushrooms like girolles or ceps
100–150g young tender curly kale leaves

For the bramble dressing:
12 blackberries, crushed    with a fork
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsps vegetable or corn oil
2 tbsps rapeseed oil

When it comes to an expensive game bird like grouse, it’s useful to have a couple of economical recipes up your sleeve to get the most out of the bird. I’m a big fan of traditional roast grouse with all the trimmings and I rarely go off-piste with grouse recipes, but there are a couple of dishes I serve during the season to allow restaurant customers to get their grouse fix. If you can’t source grouse, don’t worry, partridge or mallard work equally as well for this salad. A salad is a great light option and using tender, young curly kale leaves will make it even more interesting. What’s more, if you use the breasts for a starter you can get yet another meal out of the bird in a soup or broth.

1 | Pre-heat the oven to 240ºC/gas mark 8, then season the grouse and rub the breasts with butter. Roast for about 15mins, keeping them nice and pink, then leave to rest.
2 | Meanwhile, melt remaining butter in a frying pan and cook the wild mushrooms for 2–3mins, stirring and seasoning as they cook.
3 | Tear the curly kale leaves into smallish pieces, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch them for about 5secs, drain and refresh under cold water before drying on kitchen paper.
4 | Mix together all of the ingredients for the bramble dressing and season.
5 | To serve, remove the breasts and legs from the carcass. Slice the breasts into about six pieces and take the leg meat off the bone. Arrange the curly kale leaves on four serving plates with the grouse and mushrooms and finally, spoon over the bramble dressing.

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