Oh man, I am so, so pissed. Can you see it? Look closer. Right there, near the center, but slightly down and to the right. The smudge, the slightly blurry smudge marring every. single. one. of my photos. I’m like to scream. At first, I thought I was just going blind-12 hours a day on the computer will do that to a girl. But then I realized that it was true, that evil little smudge was real and not even one of my photos escaped its greasy grip. So I guess c’est la vie; things cannot always be perfect. I still have to tell you about this food. Let’s move on.
As unlikely as it seems, kale is having quite a moment. It seems to me, and I imagine to most food fanatics that do any amount of blog-stalking or magazine-reading, that the tough, leafy green is everywhere. It certainly is New York City’s darling right now; every hip or hip-wannabe restaurant in the city has a raw kale salad (I’m lookin’ at you, Brooklyn). When I really stop to think about it, I do find this particular food fad a little ridiculous—a tough, strongly-flavored, generally cheap braising green in the spotlight…why? Luckily, I rarely stop to think about it, because I am whole-heartedly on the kale train and I have a one-way ticket.
Look, I don’t care how over-done and spent this particular veg is. I love it. I love it raw, I love it stewed, I love it sauteed. And I love it in this perfectly seasonal casserole. This dish is fantastic because it effortlessly bridges that late winter—early spring time period (ahem, March), where you want some thing lighter (ricotta! lemon!) but the wind still dictates something warm and filling (baked pasta!).
The reviews of this recipe said it was a little bland, but I saw potential. Lemon and ricotta, sturdy greens and rotisserie chicken; certainly that could be delicious! Forewarned that this could end up in one-note land, I attacked it accordingly. I was careful to season at every step, something people seem afraid to do (salt is not the enemy guys! It’s virtually impossible to get too much sodium if you’re eating your own non-prepackaged food! So for the love, season away! End speech.) I added more garlic than called for and some lemon juice. Finally, the clincher, I tossed in some crumbled, tangy, creamy goat cheese. Oh come on, doesn’t goat cheese seem perfect for this?! (It is! So yummy!) Don’t worry, I cut back on the other cheese to make room for it, so I can still feel like I’m eating something relatively good for me while I devour it for lunch all week long. Honestly the finished product I ended up with was anything but bland! Lemony and bright, with a lovely creamy tang from the cheeses and the earthy goodness of the kale. Perfect for these last few days of chill before, I have faith, the spring will finally arrive for good. So, how’d I do? Did you forget about the blurry spot? I didn’t. Sigh.
Chicken and Kale Casserole
Adapted from Martha Stewart. Serves 6-8.
The noodles on the top of this casserole get crunchy, which I love. If you’re not a fan of that…sorry? Kidding. Top it with more cheese of course! Something like fontina would be amazeballs.
1 lb large pasta shells (not jumbo, just large)
2 T unsalted butter
1 lg yellow onion, diced medium
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches kale (1 1/2 pounds), tough stems and ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
2 c shredded or chopped cooked chicken (from 1/2 rotisserie chicken)
32 ounces part-skim ricotta
3 T finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 c Parmesan, grated (plus more for dusting)
4 oz goat cheese
- Heat oven to 350°F
- In a large pot of very salty water, cook the pasta until al dente (it should have a little more of a bite than normal since it’s gong back in the oven. Drain and return to the pot
- In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until almost soft (~4 min)
- Add the garlic and cook 1 minuts
- Add the kale, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until almost tender, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetables to the pasta
- In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice and parmesan. Mix, taste, and season with salt and pepper
- Stir the chicken and the ricotta mixture into the pasta and vegetables
- Crumble the goat cheese and gently fold into the pasta mixture
- Taste the pasta and adjust seasonings (it’s really really good before it’s baked- don’t eat it all!)
- Transfer to a 9×13″ baking dish, sprinkle with parmesan and bake ~30 minutes or until golden