Kale’s been getting a lot of love these days. And with good reason. Kale’s deep green goodness is endlessly versatile and adaptable. Raw, baked (crunchy kale chips!), sautéed, simmered…there’s no end to the ways you can use it in your kitchen. It really brightens up a winter meal, especially a pasta-based one, whose heavy starchiness needs a little chlorophyll lift.
One way to make a pasta dish with kale is to simply saute the leaves with garlic and red pepper and what have you to make a sauce (use lots of oil and finish with grated cheese if you like). But raw kale shrinks down considerably once it’s wilted, so you’ll need a mighty big pan if you want an adequate amount of greens with your pasta. And winter kale can run the gamut from silky tender to leathery and sturdy. In other words, sometimes it can cook quickly, and sometimes it can take 15 or 20 minutes to become supple and soft.
So what I like to do for making winter kale pasta is to give my kale a quick blanch. That way, I won’t have to wait for it to wilt while struggling with all those huge raw handfuls - especially when it could take a while for it to cook down if it's tough.
This is the super-simple, lazy person blanching method that I use whenever I have a big pot of pasta water on the boil. Before you add your pasta to the pot, grasp a small handful of whole kale by the stems, and simply dunk them into and swirl them around the bubbling pot for a few seconds. The stems make handles, which obviates the need for dropping the leaves into the pot and then having to drain said pot and then boil even more water to cook your pasta.
Simply stick your blanched kale on a plate or in a colander to cool. You don't need to use an ice-bath — by cooking the kale for such a brief period of time, there’s no harm in letting the leaves sit until you need them.
Then while the pasta cooks, chop up the kale leaves (discarding the stems), and saute them with whatever you're making into sauce. I love crumbled sausage, garlic, kale, and olives. Or kale, garlic, and anchovies. Or stick the blanched kale in the blender with lemon zest, olive oi, garlic, and pine nuts to make a kale pesto. So many kale pasta recipes, so much winter left to go!