A few days ago, in an effort to keep the kitchen from overheating too much during our heat wave, I made chicken cacciatore in the crock pot. I seared bone-in chicken legs and thighs, and sauteed onions, green bell peppers, mushrooms and garlic. Then everything went in the crock pot with some tomatoes, red wine and chicken stock to cover, and a hunk of frozen basil puree for flavor. A few hours later, the meat was so tender that it fell off the bone when I tried to remove the skin. We ate it up with some pasta, and I ended up saving about a quart of the sauce, thinking I would have to find an alternate use for it.
Come last night, I was basking in a windfall of fresh vegetables, kindly shared with us from a friend’s prolific garden. I also knew I needed to either cook or freeze the chicken breasts leftover from the bird I broke down for the cacciatore, so I decided to go with a take on another Italian-American classic, chicken parm, served with a not-so-classic salad of massaged raw kale and apples. The tender young kale was perfect in this application, which breaks down the greens with a salt massage (described in a bit more detail here). While the greens macerated, I made bread crumbs from my accumulated sourdough heels, breaded the chicken and got it into the oven; then I got some whole wheat spaghetti cooking, whisked up a quick vinaigrette of balsamic, yogurt, peach butter (of course) and olive oil for the kale, and shredded half a zucchini into long strands with my zester with the thought of adding it to the spaghetti. Finally, I tossed the kale together with some chopped apple, toasted sunflower seeds and my vinaigrette, sauteed the zucchini with some garlic, and reduced a few cups of the liquidy cacciatore sauce to add to the spaghetti and zucchini.
This was an excellent meal, even if Nolan managed to smear it over every inch of his tray and half his body. I’m not a big fan of the classic chicken parm, with the marinara sauce making the breading soggy, mozzarella cheese in a gooey puddle, and spaghetti almost feeling like an afterthought. In this version, the chicken strips were cheesy, crunchy and garlicky; the spaghetti was a little nutty, full of clinging bits of green, and coated with just enough of the silky, rich cacciatore sauce to moisten it. The kale slaw, as Jeremy called it, was a welcome counterpoint to the rest of the meal: sweet and tangy with hints of salt and bitterness, enlivened with the crunch of apple and the nuttiness of toasted sunflower seeds. The only thing I would change if making this again would be to try cooking the chicken strips on a cooling rack (set on top of a baking sheet) so that the convection could get on all sides of it and eliminate soggy-bottom syndrome.
As a final note, among the many vegetables so generously shared by our friend Crystal was a small handful of baby leeks, most no larger than a pencil lead in diameter. She suggested, appropriately, that I use them a bit like chives for an oniony garnish, and I did included a few with the zucchini spaghetti, but I couldn’t resist trying to plant some to see if I could get them to grow. I’ve no idea if they will make it, especially since I would have to figure out how to overwinter them for harvest in the spring, but I figured it was worth a shot—my basil plant is still pushing out leaves, so I’m feeling lucky.
Kale Slaw with Apple and Sunflower Seeds
This recipe doesn’t have amounts because you can make as much or as little as you like. Be aware as you prepare the kale that it will shrink quite a bit from the salt massage, much like it does when cooked, so use more than you think you want. You can make this more slaw-like by cutting your apple or any other desired fruits and vegetables into julienne or shreds; if I had thought about it at the time, I might have added some zucchini shreds to the kale at the point of salting. Extra dressing will keep in the fridge at least for several days.
Fresh kale, such as lacinato or Siberian
Apple, cored and chopped, skin on
Sunflower seeds, toasted
Stem the kale and slice it into 1/4″ ribbons; I do this by stacking and rolling the leaves to save time. Rinse well and pat or spin it dry. Now sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt over the kale for every bunch you use; I do this right in the salad spinner since the kale will have some liquid to release. Use your hands to massage the kale for several minutes, until it starts to turn darker green and soften, almost as if it had been cooked. Allow to sit and drain for several minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Core and chop the apple into bite-size pieces; toast the sunflower seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly golden (watch them and keep tossing them to make sure they don’t burn). Then make the dressing: roughly equal parts balsamic vinegar, plain yogurt (mine was full-fat and on the thick side), peach butter (mine is on the thin side; apple butter would be excellent here, or equal parts honey—or maple syrup—and Dijon instead), and olive oil, plus a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness.
If you are sensitive to sodium, rinse and spin the kale again to remove excess salt. Then toss well with the salad dressing, apple chunks and sunflower seeds. Unlike most salads, this one holds well at room temperature for quite a while; the hearty kale will actually benefit from the marination time, unlike more tender lettuces that would turn into wet tissue paper.