This is big, folks. Here are two of my biggest culinary secrets, laid bare for all to see. Leverage the power of these two techniques and you will be able to make it look like you can cook anything. You will be able to whip up a quick meal in minutes, impressing friends, enemies, and potential romantic partners. Trust me.
Secret Number One: kale + pasta.
Kale is an awesome food. It has a reputation as a hippy-dippy staple (and it enjoyed a recent wave of foodie popularity with these kale chips, which look, frankly, gross) but it deserves a second chance. Kale is a hearty, flavorful green that’s full of flavor. Kale is a nominally a fall/winter food, but it is grown year round. Right now we are enjoying a bumper crop of it from Full Circle Farm.
I like lacinato kale, also known as dinosaur kale (in our house, it is always called dino kale). It has dark, long leaves that are shiny and green. To prepare it, strip the leaves from the stem. The easy way to do this is to grasp the stem with one hand at the base and, with your other hand, slide your fingers up the stem to strip them off. There will be a little bit of stem that comes off the leaf at the end – this part is tender enough to eat. This is hard to explain and harder to photograph on my own, but I think you get the idea.
Once the leaves are all separated from the stems, lay them out and cut them into chunks about 1 or 2 inches square. Soak them in clean water for a few minutes to dislodge any dirt.
Then, heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add some olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the aromatics are fragrant, then dump in your kale (drained, but with water still clinging to it) and a cup of water or broth. Cook until it’s tender. That’s it. Some people like their greens cooked only 2 or 3 minutes; I prefer mine around the 7 minute mark. Any more than 10 and it starts tasting (and smelling) sulfurous (read: farty). Just taste it along the way and stop when you like the way it tastes.
You can stop right here and eat it – a bowl of kale makes an excellent lunch, late night snack, breakfast, etc. But I like to toss the greens and their garlicky juices with some some short pasta. Today I used orecchiette, which means “little ears”.
Cook the pasta until done, then toss with the kale and a little bit of the cooking water. If you’re feeling decadent, stir in some grated Parmesan and/or a pat of butter. Serve.
This brings us to…
Secret Number Two: poached egg + anything.
Poached eggs have a reputation for being tricky. There is even a whole set of cooking tools that people tell you you need. You don’t. All you really need is a pot, some vinegar, and a spoon. If you want to be fussy, use a finely slotted spoon. Here’s how you do it.
Bring a small pot of water to a bare simmer (like, tiny bubbles are starting to form but mostly it’s just steaming) and add a tablespoon of vinegar. Crack an egg into a cup. If you want to make your egg prettier, set the egg in your slotted spoon for a few seconds. This allows the extra white to drip off (it’s just a few drops – 95% of your egg will remain in the spoon), making for a prettier presentation later (I got this tip from Michael Ruhlman, who got it from Harold McGee).
Anyway, put your egg, cleaned up or not, into a small bowl and gently lower into your water. Cook for 2-3 minutes if you like a runny egg, and 3-4 minutes if you like a more set egg. Remove with your slotted spoon, drain well, and serve.
Or, you can put these two Secrets together and serve the egg on top of the pasta!
The best part is that when the egg breaks, it sauces the pasta for you:
Orecchiete with Kale and Poached Egg
serves 2 (easily doubled)
one bunch kale (preferably lacinato kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt)
8 ounces orecchiete or any other pasta (small pastas, like bowties and penne, seem to work better here)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
1 tablespoon butter, optional
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 large eggs
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt.
Strip the leaves off the kale, cut them into chunks, and soak for a few minutes. Drain in a colander.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. When they’re fragrant, add the kale and the stock or water + salt. Cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, until done to your liking, about 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta until done (taste and see!). Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Toss with the kale, adding the liquid if it seems dry. Stir in the cheese and egg if you like.
Leave this all in the skillet (off the heat) while you prepare the eggs. Fill a medium saucepan about 2 inches full of water. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar (this helps keep the whites together) and bring to a bare simmer. Drain the eggs in a slotted spoon if you like, then place each egg in a small bowl. Slide them gently into the water and cook 2-4 minutes, depending how well-done you like your eggs.
Serve a small bowl of pasta and kale with a poached egg on top. Slice the egg open and eat!