Despite the fact that it is approaching late summer and the markets are crawling with all manner of lush, succulent produce — peaches and nectarines, heirloom tomatoes and corn and baby summer squash in more colors, shapes and sizes than I knew existed — somehow I found myself with a hulking bunch of decidedly not lush, wouldn’t-describe-it-as-succulent-if-you-paid-me (even for a hundred dollars, there are lines I just won’t cross) kale in my refrigerator.
Wow that was a long sentence.
But I digress.
In my defense, this wasn’t just any old kale: this was Cavolo Nero, otherwise known as Tuscan, Lacinato, or dinosaur (yes, dinosaur) kale — my favorite kind. (Even if it wasn’t already my favorite kale due to its dark-and-brooding leafy appearance, its slightly more delicate texture and its earthy flavors, it would win based on name alone. Sorry, Red Russian, Curly Leaf and plain-Jane Plain Leaf kales — Dinosaur trumps all of you.)
There I go again.
While I was planning to hold off on enjoying kale until some of the more fleeting summer delicacies had gone out of season, I came across a larger bunch of it than I had ever seen — oddly enough, in size and shape it reminded me of a broom — for a grand total of three dollars. Three dollars! Usually this stuff is at least four or five dollars, for a bunch less than half the size. I kid you not: this stuff is like leafy-green gold.
Having been brought up to know a good deal when I see one, I purchased a bunch for myself, figuring I’d figure out what to do with it later. I also encouraged my brother (who happened to be my market-buddy for the day)… and maybe the other customer within earshot… to do the same. Both did.
I should get paid for this stuff. Seriously.
Anyway, I brought it home, stowed it away in the bottom of my refrigerator, and forgot about for a week.
Can you blame me? I was bedazzled and be-swooned by all of those aforementioned (succulent, lush, juicy, nutty, tender) beauties, and my poor kale went forgotten, ignored and unloved… until I realized today that if I didn’t use it soon, it would go bad.
In keeping with having been brought up to recognize a good deal, it was also ingrained in me that you Do Not Let Food Go To Waste if you can help it. So for my good deed of the day, I decided to tackle the kale.
I love kale in mashed potatoes and stews, but didn’t want to jump that far into autumn-appropriate comfort food. So I poked around my refrigerator and, despite having spent the last week eating tomatoes like I’ll never see them again, discovered two sad and slightly bruised beefsteaks, sitting lonely and despondent in the back of the refrigerator. I decided a tomato sauce-based dish was in order.
Perhaps my second-favorite thing to do with summer tomatoes, once they’ve been refrigerated, is to turn them into a fresh, five-ingredient, fifteen-minute tomato sauce. (And by “fresh”, I mean leave any ideas of tomato paste, sugar, dried spices or garlic powder at the door, buster.) Luckily I had a few cloves of garlic, olive oil, salt and whole peppercorns — the other four ingredients — on hand, and I had just purchased some sage and a pound of cod.
Things were starting to look promising.
Previously I’d always chopped the tomatoes and sauteed them with some garlic, salt, olive oil and fresh basil, but that usually resulted in a sauce that was more chunky and rustic. This time I wanted something with a finer and more consistent texture, and decided to take this in a slightly different direction.
I pureed the tomatoes into a sort of tomato-smoothie (not the most selling description, I know, but you don’t want to know what else it made me think of) and cooked that down, adding in a little garlic, sage, and onion slices that sweetened as they simmered.
This, all by itself, was pretty wonderful, and probably would have been a wonderful base for any number of things. But I had cod, so cod it was. I sliced the filet of fish in half, nestled it into the sauce and covered it to let it simmer and steam, and then quickly sauteed some kale with garlic and salt.
Thirty minutes later I had a meal that was highly presentable, delicious, not especially expensive (this served about two people and worked out to about $5 per person, $4 of which was from the fish) and super-healthy — a wonderful balance of lean protein and vegetables, including fiber, lycopene, antioxidants, omega 3, vitamin c, and all manner of other awesome things.
All in all, that sounds like a recipe for success to me.
As a side-note, I really liked the simplicity of the dish, which really showcased the flavors of the tomatoes and onions, fish, and kale. That said, if you wanted to spice things up a bit, I imagine the addition of cherry tomatoes and thyme or basil along with the onions would have added a slightly sweeter, more summer-forward version of this sauce, or you could take this in a slightly more bouillabaisse direction by including thinly sliced fennel with the onion, along with a pinch of saffron, a splash of wine and any combination of fish and shellfish.
Tuscan Kale and Cod Simmered in Summer Tomatoes and Sweet Onions
(If you’re thinking that’s quite a mouthful, I agree. It is… and a very delicious mouthful at that.)
- 5 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
- 8-10 large leaves of lacinto/dinosaur/Tuscan kale
- 1/2 tsp plus a few pinches of coarse salt
- olive oil
- 2 large or 3 medium ripe tomatoes
- 1 small or medium yellow onion
- 2 sprigs sage leaves
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 lb cod or other flaky white fish filets
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise (separating top from bottom) and gently squeeze halves to remove excess liquid, jelly and seeds. Cut into quarters, place in blender or food processor (I used the former, as evidenced in the picture above) and blend or process until you have what looks like a tomato smoothie.
In a pot over medium-high heat, sautee half of the minced garlic with a glug of olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper, 1 minute or until just fragrant. Then add tomato mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for roughly 10 minutes to allow some of the water to cook off.
While that’s going, peel and cut the yellow onion into thin slices or rings (you don’t want to chop it). Wash the sprig of sage and remove the leaves.Wash the kale (no need to pat it dry) and slice crosswise into thin (1/2 inch thick) ribbons. Set aside. (Many recipes call for removing the leaves from the ribs, but I find that mine cook through just fine — I don’t mind the slight crunch. Plus, I’m lazy and don’t really feel like adding in an extra step.)
When some of the water has cooked off the tomato mixture and it’s starting to look more like sauce, add the onions and sage leaves. Cook for another 3-5 minutes until the onions look softened.
Add another drizzle of olive oil to the sauce before placing the fish filets into the pot, nestling them into the sauce and/or spooning some of the sauce over them. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5-8 minutes or until fish is cooked through. If you have thicker filets, you may want to cook 4-5 minutes on one side and then flip them to cook on the other side for the last 3 minutes.
Place the fish onto plates and spoon tomato sauce and onions over it. Without washing the pot, put it back on the heat.
Add another glug of olive oil and the rest of the garlic. Again, sautee 1 minute or until fragrant. Grind in some black pepper, toss in the kale with any water still clinging to its leaves, and throw in a pinch or two of coarse salt. Stir, cover, and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring periodically so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. When it looks bright/dark green and wilted, spoon it onto the plate alongside the fish.
Top with a few grinds of black pepper and/or grated (Pecorino Romano) cheese, and serve with a wedge of lemon and a slice of crusty bread. Or a spoon.