Each month, Adam Erace picks a crop that’s in season locally rightthisveryminute and asks some of the city’s best chefs how they’re preparing it.
Is this what early pioneers felt like? Gastronomically fatigued from root crops and cellared onions? We’re nearly out of the winter woods, but before ramp hysteria ensues, heralding spring with its burst of green garlicky goodness, there’s a sturdier leaf that deserves our attention until chefs squire it away for another year: kale.
“Kale grows really well in this region,” says Kennett’s Brian Ricci, who sources the firm, stippled black-green Tuscan or Lacinato varieties from farms like Taproot and Culton, as well as grows his own in his backyard and community-garden plot. “It is hardy. I’ve got a couple rows that wintered over and have begun producing more leaves already!”
Ricci can be credited with kicking off Philly’s raw-kale-salad craze, a dish that’s been on his menu since the restaurant opened in 2010. “It stands up well to dressing five minutes before serving, unlike most greens, which tend to wilt quickly after being dressed,” he says. “The slight crunch I get when gnashing through kale is really satisfying.”
At Talula’s Garden, Sean McPaul uses three varieties of mineral-and-antioxidant-rich kale: “Tuscan, which is my favorite; green kale, which has curly leaves; and last, we have kale sprouts, which are actually a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts,” which share brassica-family DNA with kale, broccoli and cauliflower. “I probably eat more of this family of food than any other over the course of the year.”
McPaul stews the versatile greens as an accompaniment to Fontina and pistachios; blanches then buzzes them with mint, chervil, garlic and anchovy into a sauce vert for swordfish; and dehydrates them into a powder that’s added to cavatelli dough.
Kate Hartman, soup mistress of farmers-market fixture Good Spoon, uses kale in three hearty soups: veggie white bean and kale, chorizo and farro with kale, and chickpea and lentil with kale and potatoes. “I actually think any hearty green is great for adding flavor and texture (and vitamins!) to soup, but kale is by far my favorite,” she says.
Like the aforementioned chefs, Hartman is a big proponent of kale. “We eat some version of a kale salad about four nights a week at my house.”
Which begs the question: What time is dinner?