This past fall I decided to try a little experiment with freezing produce. I just couldn’t bear to part with the local vegetables for the entire winter, so I decided to see what froze well and what didn’t. At around the end of November, I went to some of my favorite farm stands and bought large quantities of fall vegetables–kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and winter squash. I would come home, wash, chop and briefly blanch each of the vegetables (except butternut squash, which can be frozen raw). Then I froze them in ziploc bags.
I have been using all of those vegetables, with mixed results. The main disappointment was broccoli–it loses much of its texture and flavor when frozen. Although the sweetness remains in the thawed broccoli, it’s waterlogged. I definitely won’t throw it away, but I’ve limited my use of the thawed broccoli to soups (which will appear in a later blog). As a side dish, it’s too limp and mushy.
I had a similar experience with cabbage, but the local cabbage was so sweet that I’m still glad I froze it, if only to add that melting sweetness to my bean stew and other soups.
The best vegetable to blanch and freeze was, by far, kale. The thawed kale is indistinguishable from freshly picked and blanched kale. Although I can certainly buy serviceable kale at my local gourmet market throughout the winter, the local stuff is still a marvel.
Assuming you don’t have frozen kale already cleaned and blanched in your freezer, cleaning the kale is the most time-consuming part of the dish –some kale is sandier than others. Generally, the non-local kale that I can buy in my supermarket is much less sandy than the local stuff (having been washed before traveling far and wide). Therefore, all that remains to be done is to strip the leaves off the tough woody stems, cut them into ribbons crosswise, give them a quick bath in a deep bowl of cold water, then boil them in salted water for about 5 minutes. Keep some of the remaining liquid from boiling the kale to add to the pasta dish or to add to soup or stew–it has a nice mellow green flavor–you can use it as a vegetable stock.
This pasta dish is an earthy, nutritious and deeply comforting combination of kale, bacon, onions and olive oil–simple, easy and a complete meal all by itself. As with most oil-based pasta dishes, I love a heavy dusting of grated pecorino romano cheese on top.
Pasta with Kale and Bacon
1 bunch kale, leaves stripped off the stems, cut into ribbons, blanched for 5 minutes
1 large onion
6 tbls olive oil + additional for drizzling
1/4 pound of slab bacon, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 lb short fat pasta such as rigatoni or ziti
salt and pepper
pecorino romano for sprinkling
While boiling pasta, saute bacon on low heat, letting the fat render for about 5 minutes; add onion and saute for about 10 minutes more, add kale.
When pasta is done, saute with kale mixture plus a 1/2 cup of pasta water and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.