Don't overlook kale (it's versatile and good for you!)

Mary Ann Esposito shares her recipes for Kale Quiche, Rigatoni with Roasted Kale and Cannellini Beans and Kale Salad

Sturdy. That’s what kale is. A gorgeous, leafy, green vegetable that belongs to the wild cabbage family but, unfortunately, has been often overlooked because not too many people know what to do with it. Not anymore! Kale has become the new darling of the vegetable kingdom, even though it has been around for a long time. Kale is thought to have originated in Asia, and brought to Europe around 600 BC by Celtic settlers and to America in the 1600s.  

I am sure that you have seen this long, imposing vegetable in your grocer’s store or at the farmers’ market. It is commonly called “curly” or “ornamental” kale. Kale is known as cavolo nero  (black cabbage) in Tuscany because the leaves are almost midnight black, thick and quilt-like in their appearance. When you buy kale, look for crisp leaves and stems, not wilted leaves with soft stems. Smaller-leaf kale is more tender with a milder flavor, but all varieties have some bitterness to them.

If you grow kale in your garden, it will be one of the last defiant vegetables to be plucked, lasting to Thanksgiving. I like to use what I grow in a classic Tuscan soup known as ribollita (recipe at

Kale is one of those foods that can take us through winter’s wrath. It is a great source of fiber and calcium. It also contains sulfur phytonutrients that some medical experts say may reduce the occurrence of some types of cancers and lower your cholesterol; however, more research needs to be done. Kale is loaded with vitamins A and C; is low in calories; and doesn’t have any saturated fat.

So go ahead and eat all you want: Use kale in soups and stews. Try it sautéed with onion, garlic and black olives as a side dish. Use it in omelets. Steam it and combine with tomato sauce atop your next pizza. Mix it into whole-wheat pasta and sprinkle with Pecorino cheese. The cooking possibilities are endless for this king of the vegetable world.


Kale Quiche
Serves 6–8

Bake a better quiche with kale, and add some important nutrients to your diet.  Use your favorite pie-crust recipe or a prepared sheet of frozen puff pastry.

1  uncooked, single pie crust or puff pastry sheet
1 ½  cups shredded cheddar, fontina or mozzarella cheese
6 eggs
1 ¼ cups half-and-half or light cream
1 cup cooked and finely shredded kale, squeezed dry
1 grinding of fresh nutmeg
Salt, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. With a rolling pin, flatten the pie crust or puff pastry dough and roll it to fit a 9-inch-by-1½-inch-deep pie dish. Trim the dough’s edges to be even with the dish’s edges.

2. Spread the cheese evenly over the pie crust.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half or cream, kale, nutmeg and salt. Pour the mixture evenly over the cheese.

4. Bake for 15–17 minutes or until the egg mixture is set. Serve warm, cut into wedges


Rigatoni with Roasted Kale and Cannellini Beans 
Serves 4–6

Using only half a pound of gluten-free pasta while adding protein-rich beans and nutrient-rich kale makes this dish a winner in the “I feel satisfied” category.

1 medium bunch kale, trimmed and leaves broken into large pieces
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
4 cups fresh plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, well-rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound gluten-free rigatoni
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the kale in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and place the leaves on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake for about 12–14 minutes or until the leaves are crispy. When the leaves are cool enough to handle, crush them and set them aside.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining oil. Add the garlic and onion, and cook until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes with their juices and cook for about 8 minutes, just to reduce the sauce slightly. Stir in the parsley and beans, and combine well. Add the salt and pepper. Cover and keep the sauce warm.

3. Cook the rigatoni in 2 quarts of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain but reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the rigatoni and the reserved cooking water to the sauce. Reheat, tossing the ingredients well.

4. Gently fold in the kale. Serve, and pass the cheese on the side.


Kale Salad
Serves 4

Something different than a typical garden salad, this dish is shimmering, pretty to look at and even better to eat—perfect for perking up a fall or winter meal.

2 bunches kale, stemmed, leaves washed and dried
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 ripe Anjou or Bosc pear, thinly sliced
6 dried figs, diced; or 1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon warm honey
1 teaspoon coarse grainy mustard
1grinding black pepper
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss the kale leaves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and place the leaves on a non-stick baking pan. Bake about 7–10 minutes or until the leaves are wilted but not browned.

2. When cool, crumble the leaves into large pieces into a bowl. Add the pears and figs
(or cranberries); toss gently.

3. Whisk the remaining olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, pepper and salt. Pour over the salad and toss gently. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve.

Categories: Food & Recipes