In the Crisper
Featured Veg: Kale
Strip: Remove leaves from stems by running thumb and forefinger along stem from bottom of leaf to top.
Chop: Cut leaves crosswise into 1-inch strips.
Wash: Submerge in large bowl of water and agitate. Let debris settle to bottom. Repeat in fresh water. Do not dry--moisture aids in cooking.
Substitute: Collards, mustard, dandelion, kohlrabi greens
My family suffers from a genetic condition called Big Deal Syndrome (BDS). Though we're also reasonably high-functioning, there's no issue, no task, no microgreen too small for us to make into a big deal over the course of a day or two. Replying to that email? Big deal. Running to the store to get some flour? Big deal. Sometimes I like to say we're "overthinky" to make our condition sound charmingly neurotic, like something all you cute aspiring novelists might want a piece of. Trust me, though. You don't.
A surprising downside of BDS--and this one is kind of a big deal--is that those of us also prone to overcompensation will, for the back half of our college years, act like nothing is a big deal. Then we'll spend a few years trying to follow other people's lead on the big-deal front, eventually getting so out of touch with our own inner compass that we'll lose the ability to identify a true big deal when it's staring us in the face. Sure, sometimes we'll lunge at our babies in full Heimlich pose if they cough while eating a Cheerio. But other times we'll dive right into the world's longest recipe for what Michael Ruhlman calls the "world's sexiest pie" at 10 p.m. with every expectation of getting a full night's sleep.
In the culinary shocker of the century, the world's sexiest pie is actually a quiche. As you might imagine, it's no mere mortal quiche. It's three times taller, ten times more voluptuous, and infinitely better. This kale and pancetta version, based on a quiche Lorraine from Ruhlman's book Ratio, is a bit of a big deal to prepare. But if you're so inclined, it's totally worth the effort. If you'd prefer a more weeknight-friendly way to use your kale, there's also a simpler frittata variation below.
Since CSAs, gardens, and farmers' markets are nothing if not unpredictable--especially in a challenging growing season like this one--it's incredibly helpful to be able to improvise in the kitchen rather than slavishly following recipes. To improvise successfully, it's worth investing a bit of time and energy in learning some fundamentals about the way ingredients come together, or at least where to look to find that information. For baked goods, stocks and sauces and some pretty hardcore meat-related shenanigans, Ratio is an excellent resource. It's also worth a read if you're new to the idea of culinary improv.
But if you've just gotten home with a bunch of kale and the mind to put together an interesting dish, you can get pretty far with a pound of pasta or a few eggs, the Google search results for "kale affinities," and a willingness to use your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and cojones.
With a little confidence, cooking from your CSA or garden is no big deal. But don't take it from me.
Note: For a much quicker and still delicious variation, make a frittata instead of a quiche. Omit the dough completely. Follow steps 1 through 4 below, cooking in a nonstick frying pan and using only 1/2 cup total of cream and/or milk. Add the egg mixture to the frying pan, and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Cook without disturbing until the frittata is set on the underside. Place the pan 4 to 6 inches under the broiler until frittata is cooked through and top is lightly browned. Serve hot or at room temperature by the slice. Serves 4.
Big-Deal Kale and Pancetta Quiche
- Yield:6 to 8
- 12 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, 1/4-inch dice
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 pound kale, stripped, chopped, and washed as specified In the Crisper (above)
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- A few good grinds of black pepper
- 1 recipe Savory Pastry Dough, Baked Blind (below)
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Ingredients for Savory Pastry Dough:
- 12 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced and kept in the freezer
- Big pinch of salt
- 2 ounces ice water
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the diced pancetta in a large frying pan. Sauté over medium-high heat until nicely browned and cooked through, lowering the heat if necessary as you go. Remove the pancetta with a strainer or slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the diced onion to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften but not brown. Add the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
Increase the heat to medium-high. Add a large handful of the prepared kale to the pan. Cover and cook a minute or two until slightly wilted. Toss to distribute the onions and garlic so they don't burn. Add more kale to the pan by the handful. When all the kale is in the pan, add 1/4 cup water and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. If the pan becomes dry, add a few additional tablespoons of water to prevent burning. Remove from heat and mix in pancetta.
To make the custard, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk until frothy. Add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper and whisk again until very frothy and well combined. Don't be shy with the whisk--the air will help prevent the solid ingredients from falling to the bottom of the custard while the quiche bakes.
To assemble the quiche, gently distribute half of the kale mixture onto the bottom of the blind-baked crust. Pour half the custard over top and sprinkle with half the grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining kale mixture, custard and cheese.
Bake for 90 minutes (or up to 2 hours if necessary), until custard is just set but still jiggles slightly when agitated. Cool to room temperature and then chill until completely cold. Serve cold by the slice.
Savory Pastry Dough, Baked Blind: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade. Pulse to blend until most of the mixture looks like coarse meal, with some larger pieces of butter about the size of peas.
With the motor running, add the ice water through the feed tube and blend very briefly to incorporate. Pick up a small handful of the dough and squeeze gently. If the dough holds together, turn it out onto a clean, dry work surface. If not, add more water by the teaspoonful and pulse just until it does. Do not overwork the dough, or it will get tough.
Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough forward on the work surface in about 8 sections to distribute the butter. Working quickly, gather the dough into a disc shape, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Remove the dough from the fridge to rest for a few minutes. On a lightly floured work surface or two overlapping sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. It should make a circle big enough to fit the bottom and sides of the ring mold or cake pan with substantial overhang (see photo here). Place the ring mold or cake pan on a baking sheet and line with parchment paper. Ease the dough into the ring mold or pan, making sure it lines the bottom and sides without gaps. Cut away and reserve a few pieces from the overhang to patch any holes that arise during blind baking.
Line the dough with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment, patch any holes with some of the reserved dough, and bake for about 15 minutes more, until lightly browned. If any holes remain, patch with the remaining reserved dough.