Wilted Kale with Pancetta, Raisins and Pine nuts
Kale is the type of divisive green that is amorously feasted on by yoga twisted locavores who smell like sprouted mung beans, and vehemently rejected by the segment of our population which would not be caught dead in anything made of bamboo or hemp, and consider “goddamn dirty hippies” to be a fair and useful phrase. I fall somewhere in between.
I like kale, I really do, I just don’t love kale. Worse yet, I want to be one of those people who loves kale, and I just can’t. I can hoard crispy spiced kale chips, feast on a healthy bowl full of farro with roasted cauliflower and chickpeas, or temper the bitterness with sweet butternut squash in a pasta sauce. But I don’t love kale as a stand alone, and I really want to.
Several months ago, I informed Mike that we were having kale wraps for dinner. He looked like he had just been shot. I calmly advised him, “But Mike, you will love them. After all, we are a Kale Loving Couple.” I thought that maybe if I just repeated the mantra often enough that it would somehow be true. Also, I need to stand firmly on the side of kale, tofu and quinoa (a trifecta of evil, in his opinion), because the moment that I waver he will seize the opportunity to gain headway in his Hotdogs Are A Perfect Daily Dinner argument. That must not happen.
Thankfully, after a bit of experimentation I have managed to identify at least one featured kale dish that he will eat with gusto and intent, therefore advancing my agenda.
The combination of bitter greens with salty fat and the sweetness of raisin or currant is nothing new, as any good Sicilian would tell you, and I urge you to give it a shot. There are certain sweet/savoury combinations that you always see together (pork and apples, olives and orange, etc) and for good reason. In this case, the sweetness of raisin and sour bite of lemon balances out the bitterness of kale, the pancetta adds a salty, robust and musky flavour, and the pine nuts are a welcome buttery and earthy complement.
We brought this as a side dish offering to our Easter dinner and it was lovely alongside a perfectly rare roast beast, but it would have been equally welcome beside ham, turkey, pork loin or venison.
Wilted Kale with Pancetta, Raisins and Pine nuts
Serves 6 as a side dish
- 2 large bunches fresh kale
- 175 g (6 oz) pancetta *
- 2 large or 3 smaller cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup (50 g/2 oz) pine nuts
- 2/3 cup raisins
- 1 lemon, juice only
- salt, to taste
Pancetta often has the thick and unwieldy skin on one side. With a sharp knife, trim this off and then chop the pancetta into a small (1/4″) dice.
Put the diced pancetta into a large skillet set over medium heat. You might as well throw in the skin while you’re at it, because you can render out most of the flavorful fat rather than waste it.
Stir every so often to make sure that the pancetta does not burn, and cook it down until most of the fat is rendered and the pancetta is a crispy golden brown.
Remove the crispy pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and set it aside to drain on paper towels.
Pour the rendered fat out of the pan and reserve it. There should be approximately 1/4 cup.
Wash the kale and spin it dry. Tear the leaves off and discard the thick, tough stems. Some people are rather OCD about this step, carefully cutting away each stem with a razor-like precision, but I think that is unnecessary. The bit of stem in the top half of each leaf will do you no harm, and might as well make short work of the task; use your hands and tear. Coarsely chop the kale into manageable (3-4″) pieces.
In the same skillet where you rendered the pancetta, over a medium temperature, heat up one (1) tablespoon of the fat along with one (1) tablespoon of olive oil. Add half the kale, approximately one whole bunch when trimmed and torn.
Saute the kale, turning it regularly until it wilts down and loses about 50% of the original volume. This will only take a minute or two.
Remove the kale from the heat immediately as soon as the kale is softened and wilted (but NOT completely collapsed mushy greens) and repeat with another tablespoon each of fat and oil along with the second batch of kale.
When the kale is wilted, wipe out the pan and toast the pine nuts. Shake the pan repeatedly and remove the pine nuts from the pan as soon as they are golden and starting to color.
Toasting pine nuts is one of those godforsaken activities that you do not want to do in the oven. You also don’t want to leave the kitchen to answer the phone, take a bathroom break, or let your eyes stray from the pan for even a moment. Pine nuts are sneaky and spiteful little buggers and they will burn as soon as they see an errant opportunity.
Heat the remaining two (2) tablespoons of fat and one (1) tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.
Finely mince the garlic and saute it until it starts to turn golden, but be careful not to let it brown or burn!
Squeeze in the juice of one lemon (3-4 tbsp) and give things a quick stir before adding the raisins. Turn the heat down to low and let this cook together for about 5 minutes so that the raisins can slightly plump.
Toss the raisins and dressing with the kale and half each of the crispy pancetta bits and pine nuts. Give it a taste to check for salt and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Sprinkle the remaining pancetta and pine nuts on top.
Because this wilted kale dish can be served warm or at room temperature, it is an excellent side dish for a buffet or holiday dinner. Or, in fact, just for someone who likes to prep in advance so that they can spend some time with their guests when they arrive. Nothing wrong with that!
I love the textures in this dish, with soft, juicy raisins, crunchy pancetta, toothsome pine nuts and the wilted kale. The agrodolce effect of sweet and tangy with the rendered pork fat is just a glistening plus!
I still have a bit of work to do if I plan on turning Mike into half of a Kale Loving Couple, but at least I’m on the right track. After all, if pancetta and pine nuts aren’t the way to his heart….!