Spaghetti with Braised Kale
Then I went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specialized in southern cooking with some friends. Being a vegetarian, I had to pass on the barbecue ribs and fried chicken. So there I was, stuck with a hunk of corn bread and some braised kale. You should have seen the look on my face.
That turned out to be the day I changed my mind about this commonly-misunderstood vegetable. The braised kale I had was tender and sweet. Kale is sweet. Yes, you heard right. I couldn’t wait to go home and cook them myself.
It turns out that kale just needs to be cooked the right way. The vegetable is fibrous with tough stems and thick leaves, making it perfect for braising, a method where ingredients are first seared or sauteed then cooked slowly until very tender. Kale becomes wilted and silky with a nutty sweetness similar to caramelized onions.
In this dish, kale is cooked with flavorful ingredients like onion and garlic, which become brown and intense as they cook. The red pepper flakes give the dish a nice punch. You can omit it or add according to taste. Just don’t leave out the lemon juice at the end. It brightens up the dish and makes all the difference.
Without the pasta, the kale works well as a side dish to some grilled salmon or roasted chicken. As a pasta dish, you can serve it with a fried egg or some spicy Italian sausages (they actually make veggies ones now!) to make it a meal. This is one of my favorite pasta dishes ever. I find it even more hearty and comforting than a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
I no longer avoid kale when I go to the market. In fact, I crave it at least once a month. Nowadays, when I think of kale, I think of words like “sweet”, “nutty” and “wonderful”.
Spaghetti with Braised Kale
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg via Bon Appetit, May 2010
- Kale, 1 pound (about 2 bunches), large center ribs and stems removed, cut crosswise to 1/2-inch pieces
- Olive oil, 3 tablespoons, divided
- Red onion, 1 medium, finely chopped
- Garlic cloves, 8 large, thinly sliced
- Red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon, or to taste
- Spaghetti, 1/2 pound
- Salt, a handful for boiling pasta and more to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Lemon juice, 1 tablespoon (about half of a medium lemon)
- Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, for sprinkling at the end
Rinse kale. Transfer to a boil with some water still clinging to the leaves.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook until onion is golden brown, another 5 minutes. Add kale and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook until kale is wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is dark and very tender, stirring occasionally and adding water by the tablespoonful if the mixture seems dry and is sticking to the bottom. This will take about 20 minutes.
While the kale braises, cook spaghetti in a pot of salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
Try the kale mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked spaghetti to kale. Add lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Toss to combine. Add more cooking liquid if the pasta seems dry.
Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan and serve.