I regret it but I do it: Size up somebody by the way she looks. Conservative-looking = small worldview. Loud and boisterous = probably not too sensitive. You know what I mean.
Well, one of my favorite standholders at our farmers market should have cured me of this small-minded habit of mine a long time ago. She dresses “plain” like my mother did in the 1950s, but she is a Vegetable Queen. She grows an astonishing array of vegetables, and she really knows them. Every time I walk up to her stand, she’s got something lush and beautiful that I’m seeing for the first in its fresh state.
This woman grows parsnips and rainbow chard and bok choi and Romanesco. And she cooks these out-of-the-ordinary plants for her family. She’s learned their personalities and how to make them taste their best.
I somehow can’t get over the shock of finding lustrous mounds of these vegetables with character at this plain woman’s stand. Mrs. T. is plain-down vegetable-fashionable. She sells them with passion and advice, but only when you ask for it. As our daughter Rebecca says, “She makes these vegetables approachable. She knows their flavors and textures.” Recently Rebecca found a recipe for pasta, sausage, and broccoli rabe. She went trotting down to the market for the rabe, heading straight for Mrs. T.’s stand. But she didn’t have any that morning. When Rebecca asked what she’d recommend as a substitute, Mrs. T. proposed bok choi.
Rebecca loved it. She said she probably wouldn’t have tried that vegetable, with both its soft and crunchy mildness, otherwise.
I found a lovely mountain of Russian kale when I swung by Mrs. T.’s stand a couple of days ago. Here goes, I thought, with my hand already clutching a gorgeous bunch of the feathery leaves on colorful stems.
Mrs. T., when I asked, said she likes to stir-fry the torn leaves and finely chopped stems in a glub* of olive oil, along with minced garlic and onion, just until the moment the veggies soften. (*That’s my measurement, not hers. It’s the amount you get when you tip the bottle over far enough for it to get a bubble in its throat and make that sound. In other words, about 1-2 Tablespoons.)
I made one batch and we loved it, along with our daughter Kate, who came to watch football and eat with us. I went back to Mrs. T. for a second fistful, keeping alive this new romance I have.
This sounds a little weird, but I love chopping the kale, using this nifty technique. Make a stack of leaves (still attached to their stems) on a good-sized cutting board. Roll the stack up as tightly as you can. Now cut the stack into about ¼”-thick slices. Result? Lovely crepe-paper-like ribbons that are easy to stir-fry and to eat.
Try this Delicious Sausage Soup. It will warm your body and soul—and introduce you to kale if you haven’t tried it yet.
Delicious Sausage Soup
Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook:1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, page 102
Makes: 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking Time: 4-5 hours
Ideal slow-cooker size: 5-quart
5½ cups chicken broth
3 carrots, grated
4 potatoes, sliced or cubed
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, browned and drained of drippings
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups fresh kale, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1. Place broth in slow cooker. Turn on High.
2. Add carrots, potatoes, and sausage carefully so you don’t splash yourself.
3. Sprinkle in spices. Stir.
4. Cover. Cook on High 4-5 hours, or until vegetables are as soft as you like them. Stir occasionally during cooking time.
5. Twenty minutes before end of cooking time, stir in chopped kale.
6. Ten minutes before end of cooking time, stir in cream or evaporated milk, cooking until soup is heated through.
Variation: if you don’t want the soup to be too spicy, use ½ lb. sweet sausage and ½ lb. spicy sausage.