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Tuesday, August 16

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When we decided to have a dinner party recently, the one thing I really wanted to do was to try to reproduce a roasted kale dish that I'd had over Christmas at a restaurant in Rockport, Maine.  So the following is in essence a dinner party organized around a side dish. Little did I know that my choice of vegetables had international cultural significance. When we went to the grocery store, there was hardly any kale out, and what there was looked badly picked over. So we asked a grocery worker if they had any more in the back.  He came out with a trolley on which was a huge cardboard box just full of kale in enormous bunches. We were about to pounce on it, but a middle-aged German couple pounced first, on the kale and on us. "Oh, you eat kale? Do Americans eat kale? We eat kale a lot. It is all over North Germany in the winter. We're so glad to meet you. We are always wondering who is eating kale besides us." We explained that we couldn't speak for other Americans but that we were fond of it ourselves. They were overjoyed. I was trying to decide whether we needed one bunch or two, but fortunately the experts had some advice on that subject ("Get two. It will collapse a lot"). We left the store with the warm and fuzzy (if slightly perplexing) feeling that we'd made somebody's day just by buying kale.  

Kale, like most green leafy vegetables, is really, really good for you; it's full of vitamins and minerals and has almost as much calcium as milk. If you aren't in the habit of eating it, the following dinner party will provide a starting point. Here's the main menu:

Roasted Kale with Cheese
Momma Lingley's Onion Soubise
Roast Leg of Lamb (or Pork Roast) with Garlic and Rosemary
Cheese and Olive Platter with French Bread

First, assemble the cheese and olive platter and set it aside for later. This will be the last course, and will come at a time when, if you're lucky, you'll be in no mood to do anything but eat and drink. The cheese platter depends mainly on your own taste in cheese and olives and your own creativity. We were fortunate enough to have left this task to Cinnamon and Andrew, who put together a fantastic selection including cipollini (baby onions pickled in balsamic vinegar) and a wonderful collection of olives. Everyone should take Cinnamon's advice when it comes to olives.

You may also want to serve hors d'oeuvres beforehand. We leave this as an exercise for the reader, except to observe that all the dishes in this meal are extremely rich and so probably something light is called for in the hors d'oeuvres department if you want your guests to be able to leave on their own power.

Next, prepare the lamb. For eight or nine people, a 6-7 lb. leg of lamb (with the bone in) will be about right. If you don't want to cope with the bone you can have the leg "butterflied" (bone removed, meat re-rolled and tied), in which case, naturally, it will weigh less and cook faster. However, I think that the bone contributes to the flavor of the meat, and you can make a heck of a soup stock from it afterward. The following is a preparation that can also be used for a pork rib roast for those who don't care for lamb. That said, I think some of Americans' prejudice against lamb comes from having had it badly prepared, and I would encourage anybody to try the roast we describe here. If you absolutely can’t face it, the instructions for pork are below.  

A bone-in leg of lamb comes covered with a membrane called the "fell" and a layer of fat. This fat is quite strong-tasting -- it is the source of the gamy flavor that some people associate with lamb -- and it will overwhelm the flavor of the meat, so most of it should be removed. The fell also has to go, not only because it is tough and inedible, but also because it will insulate the meat from the heat of the oven and prevent its cooking properly! It can be removed by peeling up the edge and cutting it away from the meat with a sharp knife. This is a messy and finicky job. You should leave a few streaks of fat to help keep the meat tender, but basically remove whatever you can. Then wash and pat dry the leg of lamb and put it in a roasting pan.  You will need:

1/2 head of garlic
3 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil (or so)
Black pepper
A handful of finely minced fresh rosemary

Juice the lemons and mix the juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary into a sort of vinaigrette. If you are really fond of the flavor of lemon, zest half of one of the lemons and stir the zest into the mixture. Set aside. Peel the cloves of about half a head of garlic and slice each one lengthwise into two or three slivers. With a sharp pointy knife, make deep slits into the lamb all over, about half an inch to an inch apart, and insert a sliver of garlic into each slit. It's OK if the ends of the cloves stick out a little, but get them as far in there as you can. The resulting roast will be rather knobbly and strange-looking but trust me, it's worth it when the roast meat is perfumed with garlic. Pour the vinaigrette over the whole thing and work it into all the slits you've made. The excess will run off into the bottom of the pan and can be used for basting during the roasting process. Cover and set aside for later roasting.  

Next, prepare the kale. You need:

Two large bunches of kale
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Grated Gouda cheese (or some other assertive meltable cheese; the original dish used a combination of Gruyere and Gorgonzola) -- about a cup or more of grated cheese


Wash the kale carefully and thoroughly -- grit likes to hide out in all those curly leaves. Tear the leaves away from the central rib and into manageable pieces (about palm size). Discard the ribs, they're too tough to eat. Toss the leaves in a very large pot with 1/2 cup of water and steam for 3-5 minutes until tender but still a bright, deep green. Don't let them turn all olive green and mushy -- yuck. Then layer the leaves with the grated cheese in an ovenproof serving dish (shaking off excess water). Mix up a basic vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and salt. Drizzle generously over the whole thing. Set aside (you will run this under the broiler at the last minute).

At this point you should put in the roast. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, but when you put the roast in, turn it down right away to 350 or 325 degrees. The lamb should cook for about 2 hours. Baste it every now and then if you think of it. I didn't think of it and the lamb was fine. Test it for doneness using a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the leg (but not touching the bone), 140-145 degrees for medium rare, or 150-155 degrees for medium. I don't recommend well done, as the delicate flavors of the lamb are more or less destroyed by that point. Also, remember that the meat will heat up another five degrees after being taken out of the oven. If you have decided on pork, you should have bought a pork rib roast (the kind that includes the ribs and tenderloin) with a good fat layer and prepared it as described for the lamb, starting from the point where you insert slices of garlic into the meat. Pork should be roasted at 350 degrees, about 35 minutes per pound or until the meat thermometer reads about 180 degrees.

Finally, make the soubise. This is a slow-cooked onion and rice puree which requires a certain amount of attention, so make sure everything else is under control first.

3 pounds yellow onions
8 tbsp butter (or more)
1 cup raw rice
1/2 cup vermouth
1/2 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
Salt and white pepper
Parsley for garnish (mince or sashay or whatever)

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Melt the butter in a large frying pan or saucepot which has a cover. Add the onions to the pan and turn to coat with butter. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer very slowly for 20 to 30 minutes. Watch the onions carefully, as they ought not to brown, and stir every now and then. Meanwhile, parboil the rice in well salted water for about 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly and add to the onions when they are completely soft and tender. Add the vermouth and simmer the onion-rice mixture, uncovered, again over very low heat, for another 10 -- 15 minutes. Add some water or reserved rice water if the mixture seems too dry as it cooks. It should be like a thick sauce, not a solid paste. Puree through a food mill or rotary ricer, or pulse just a few times in a food processor. Don't overdo it -- you could easily create a batch of fragrant wallpaper paste! -- I think once or twice or maybe three pulses. Check after each pulse. You want it to retain some texture, not to be totally pureed.  Stir in the cream and extra butter if you like, add salt and white pepper to your taste. You can use black pepper too; it just looks a bit dirty against the white puree. If you taste the soubise before salting it, you will think it terribly bland; but when well seasoned this dish has a fragrant onion flavor set off by the richness of the butter and cream.  Your it into an ovenproof serving dish and set it aside: it is durable and you can always put it in the oven for five minutes to heat it up later. Garnish with minced parsley just before serving.

When the meat comes out of the oven, turn the oven to broil in preparation for the kale. Set the meat to cool a bit before carving. It's an awkward cut of meat to carve, or to handle at table: we found it easier to carve it in the kitchen and serve just a platter of sliced meat. Spoon some of the pan juices over the meat before serving.  

Last of all, run the kale under the broiler for 5-10 minutes or until the exposed curly edges of the leaves begin to char and crisp.  

We served the lamb, soubise and kale all together, and followed it with the cheese course and bread. You will want a couple of bottles of wine to go with all this: we had a Chilean red called Santa Rita which was nice, and a dry white that we were so unimpressed with that we can't remember what it was called. In the future I think I'd choose a Pacific Northwest gewurztraminer or riesling, which would have enough flavor to stand up to the lamb, soubise and kale. For dessert I recommend something uncomplicated and light, like sorbet with fruit compote or a rustic galette or fruit tart you can purchase at your local patisserie. We had a lovely, leisurely evening and, with any luck, you will too. Enjoy!

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shechemist / February 3, 2004 3:14 PM

I love kale! sauted with garlic in olive oil and tossed with cooked zita. slow cooked with blue cheese added. steamed with some miso paste. When I lived in seattle kale would grow just about all year long, so I could harvest it as I needed it.

Kate / February 3, 2004 5:01 PM

It is a good winter vegetable since, like some root vegetables, it grows sweeter after a frost. Kale -- it's not just for garnish any more!

Cinnamon / February 4, 2004 9:46 AM

I have to admit that this was the first time I have eaten kale. I'd gotten soggy piles of over-steamed bland kale at vegetarian restaraunts so I was a bit skeptical. I shouldn't have been. It's a great vegetable and a wonderful dish. Kate is great in the kitchen.

Xan / March 8, 2004 4:53 PM

Kale with Cranberries!
Soooo good.

Saute sliced garlic and diced red onion in a bit of olive oil, add torn-pieces of kale (sans ribs and stems). After a minute or so, toss a tiny bit of water (or red wine if you're sippin) in there to make the kale steam up. Once the water is gone, add dry cranberries (a handful). When they're soft and the kale is bright green, eat with a little salt.

You will go nuts.

Never, ever, let the kale go blah-colored.


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