Janet Fletcher's Ayran
The Language of Food

Ruth Reichl's Spicy Tuscan Kale


Thrilling the hearts of American immigrants all over Berlin, lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale) has recently been spotted in grocery stores throughout the city. According to my unscientific polling, we Yankees are also single-handedly responsible for it no longer being available, because we buy up every single bundle of it once spotted. So, yay on the one hand and apologies on the other?

I gleefully bought the three massive bunches for sale at an organic grocer in Mitte last week and then begrudgingly gave one bunch to my mother, who had never even heard of the stuff before. (Behold those famed Italian regional differences in action!) The rest I blanched and then stewed with anchovies, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes, as per Ruth Reichl's brilliant instructions.


Though some people would have you eat kale raw, either massaged into a salad with a Caesar dressing or blended with nut milk and ice into a refreshing and verdant morning beverage, I am not one of those people. I like to eat my dark green leafy vegetables good and cooked, limp and tender. This recipe, which has you first blanch the tough greens and then stew them for another 10 minutes, results in greens that are sweet and tender, savory and delicious, and almost black in color. And after putting them on the plate, you top them with some toasted, crunchy breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese, which brightens them right up again.


Even if you think you are not an anchovy-lover, I would urge you to try this recipe as written, because the anchovies are there as a seasoning element, working overtime to give this homely dish of vegetables the kind of deep, funky richness the plant world simply can't provide. The end result doesn't taste remotely fishy. Also, whatever you do, do not skip the crunchy breadcrumb bit. I'm starting to think that every vegetable in the world could use more crunchy breadcrumbs.

The first time I made this, I served it with some boiled pasta (and wished I'd had just a few spoonfuls of ricotta to bind the two together, just so you know). The second time, we ate it piled on toasted, oiled bread. Both times, it was out-of-this-world delicious.


And now for something completely different. For reasons I cannot get into at the moment, I am the current owner of one head of iceberg lettuce. I believe this may be the first time in my 37 years. What do I do with it? Use it as a football? Turn it into mulch for my newly planted balcony? Use it to make some incredible salad that you are dying to tell me about? I'm hoping you go for option 3.

Ruth Reichl's Spicy Tuscan Kale
Serves 3-4
Note: To toast breadcrumbs, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan and add the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat, until the breadcrumbs have turned several shades darker and are fragrant and nutty. Do not let them burn. When they are done, immediately scrape them into a serving bowl.

3 bunches lacinato kale, (about 3 pounds), stems and ribs discarded, leaves torn into large pieces and washed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 flat filet anchovies in olive oil, preferably jarred variety
3/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 medium onions, large dice, (about 2 cups)
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs (see Note)

1. Bring 4-6 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to boil in a large pot. Plunge the kale into the water and cook for one minute. The color will become a vibrant green within this time. Remove the kale to a colander under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-large skillet over medium heat and add the anchovies, pressing and stirring them into the oil until they disintegrate. Add the onions, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, and stir over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes until they become translucent and soft. Add the kale to the onions along with the garlic and the last tablespoon of olive oil. Stir occasionally until everything comes together in a soft mass for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.