Pasta Del Verde asked us which is our secret in the kitchen. I’ve been wondering about that for a while, too, especially in these days when I am moving all my belongings into my new kitchen, organizing the shelves, the jars of flour with hand written labels, the boxes of pasta, honey and sugars and the cabinet of salt – fine, corse, flavoured, fleur de sel de Camargue, an aromatic memory of a wonderful trip and my favorite, the Maldon salt … where is my secret? is it hidden in the jars or deeper?
Certainly seasonal ingredients play a key role, crisp zucchini in the early days of summer, the squash, lit by the same colours of the autumn trees, and the Tuscan black kale, at its best after the first frost of winter. Following the seasonality creates expectation and gives us the same rhythms that Mother Nature follows in her bountiful production, it makes us look forward to the next season, to see the colours and the ingredients change, just as in the famous scene of the market in the Notting Hill film: nectarines, apples and pears, tangerines and oranges, then juicy strawberries and cherries, then back again to the nectarines. You miss them so much after a whole year, you almost forget their velvety skin or how good they are when grilled with raw cane sugar and served with a scoop of ice cream… can you sense the thrill of expectation growing in you? I do!
Respect the seasons, with vegetables and fruit, with fish, with everything… It is probably a universally acknowledged secret, everybody knows how important the seasonality is in the kitchen, though we sometimes tend to forget how surprising every changing of season can be.
Then, let me tell you this, there is always a little bit of inexplicable magic, something that happens before your very eyes when you cook for someone you love and care for: you pour into a cake or a dish of pasta your love, your hopes, your dreams. I might be rhetorical, but I feel this energy flowing from my hands, and I am pretty sure that you can feel it in every cooked dish, as I can feel it in my grandmother’s meat sauce or in my mum’s orange guinea fowl.
For this pasta dish I put together all my secrets: a good pasta, the Del Verde tortiglioni, the black kale, the main ingredient of our Tuscan winter cuisine, the aged Tuscan pecorino to add an extra pungent flavour and a few cubes of guanciale, a kind of cured meat made with the pork cheek, though you can use the more common pancetta. A Tuscan dish to the core. As for the magic, well, there was a pinch of that, too!
The recipe is for two jars of pesto. You can keep it in the refrigerator covered with extra virgin olive oil for a few days or freeze it into cubes as you would do with the basil pesto sauce. Remember to dilute the pesto with a few tablespoons of cooking water, it will be easier to toss. The final touch is some crisp pancetta or guanciale: you won’t need anything else.
Black Kale Pesto
- A bunch of Tuscan black kale, about 500 g (about 250 once cleaned)
- 150 g of almonds
- 120 g of Tuscan pecorino cheese, grated
- 1/2 clove of garlic
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Tortiglioni Del Verde
- Pancetta or guanciale, diced
- Rinse the black kale under running water and remove the hard stalks. Cook for about 30 minutes in salted water, then drain and squeeze out the water. Let cool slightly.
- Purée the cabbage with almonds, a clove of garlic and extra virgin olive oil: use it generously, it will help you blend the pesto and you'll be able to store it in the fridge for longer.
- Add the grated pecorino cheese and season with salt.
- Meanwhile cook the tortiglioni Del Verde according to package directions.
- Stir the pesto with a few tablespoons of cooking water to soften, then use it to dress pasta.
- Cook a few cubes of pancetta in a non-stick pan for a few minutes until crisp, then add to the pasta,toss and serve immediately.
… and now, out of the blue, I go away for a few days, a very unexpected and so longed for adventure, my first time in the mountains in winter as an adult. The last time I was there I was less than a meter tall, I believed in Santa Claus and I am also pretty sure I saw him on the sleigh. That night I received a beautiful surprise, the Lego… who knows which will be the surprise this year!
I’ll be back in the first days of the new year, so for the moment I leave you with my best wishes and a question: which is the recipe of Juls’ Kitchen that you liked the most this year?