by Jennifer Meehan
The past year hasn’t been easy for many regional farmers. Everything from hurricanes to overnight frosts on the heels of hot spells have made it a little harder than usual to predict what the ground will yield from week to week. Fortunately, there are a few hardy vegetables that can survive and even thrive despite nasty fits of weather. As it turns out, spring kale is one of the tougher greens in the field, ready to take whatever sucker punch mother nature might throw.
After spotting a bounty of spring kale at Fishkill Farms’ stand at the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket, I stopped to talk with farmer Josh Morgenthau about the hardy green. Fishkill Farms is located in Hopewell Junction, about sixty miles north of New York City, on the east side of the Hudson River. Josh has been farming for about six years, but his family has been working the farm for almost a century. The farm is two hundred and seventy acres in size, of which about one hundred are used to grow produce.
Josh one left the farm to study painting, and returned to paint its bucolic landscapes. Once back, he fell into farming, and fell in love with it. He still paints when time permits in winter, but the farm work comes first.
While many associate kale with fall, Josh clarified that it’s both a fall and spring vegetable. This year, due to the mild weather, Fishkill Farms was actually able to harvest the popular green throughout the winter. According to Josh, kale is remarkably tolerant of the cold, surviving in conditions that would kill almost any other leafy green, and it often tastes sweeter after a mild frost.
I asked Josh how they actually harvest kale. Like many greens, he said, it’s harvested by periodically picking off the out leaves of the plant, leaving the bud in the center untouched to the plant can continue to grow.
Kale has been a favorite of detoxers and health fiends for its robust levels of antioxidants and fiber. Recently, it’s become a star on menus citywide, as chefs have fallen for its earthy, nutty flavor, and its availability as a fresh local green at a time of year when most vegetables are travelling thousands of miles before landing in their kitchens.
Kale is quite versatile – it can be eaten raw, steamed, baked, juiced, or fried to a crisp – an approach that’s been particularly hot among chefs this past year. Josh prefers his kale simply sautéed. His method? Heat up a pan with olive oil and garlic, add kale, season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste, and sautee for about five minutes. My favorite way? Kale chips: Wash the kale, roughly chop, toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and minced garlic, and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
In search of a little more kale adventure, we went to chef Nate Smith of Williamsburg’s Allswell, who shared his recipe for Allswell’s kale and cardoon toast.
Kale and Cardoon Toast, from Chef Nate Smith of Allswell
- Bring pot of salted water to a boil and blanch four large stalks of cardoons two to three times to remove their bitterness.
- Peel away fibrous strings and dice.
- Blanch one large bunch of kale, let cool, and roughly chop.
- Thinly slice a clove of garlic, and put it into a cold sauté pan with two tablespoons of olive oil, then gently toast.
- When the garlic is golden brown, add kale and one teaspoon marjoram, and sauté for about 30 seconds.
- Combine cardoons, kale, a quarter cup mayonnaise, and a half cup gruyere cheese in a large bowl.
- Season with fresh grated nutmeg, salt, black pepper and chili to taste.
- Spoon mixture onto four slices of good toasted bread.