At this time of year, when the weather’s turning to autumn, we have a bounty of hearty greens and winter squashes at our farms and markets. Kale and chard are often served with dried fruits such as currants, raisins and dates, so the October Paper Chef challenge ingredients – kale, currants, dates and bread – seemed perfectly in line with our seasonal fare. But Paper Chef is a challenge after all, so I made a riff on a related classic dish and ended up with a spunky, well-balanced and delicious meal. (Sorry about the dark photo… the light was dull around here.)
I cut the kale – lacinato or “dinosaur” kale in this case – into long ribbons about the dimensions of the lovely wide pasta that my daughter brought back from Italy, and combined the two with olive oil and garlic plus snipped dates and dried currants (sorry no fresh ones around here at this time of year). To put some oomph into the dish, I roasted tiny cubes of butternut squash and sourdough bread in garlicky olive oil and salt. Tossed with the kale and pasta, the combination offered crunch to the soft, sweet to the savory, and orange to the green. Complementary, seasonal, nutritious and tasty.
Kale and Pasta with Croutons and Butternut Squash
1 bunch lacinato (flat-leaf) kale
½ small butternut squash
1 slice of good quality bread, (I used sourdough), 3/8”inch thick
¼ c olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp dried currants
1-2 large dried dates, snipped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 lb + wide pasta (like tagliatelle)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the ingredients. Remove the center stem from the kale and slice the leaves lengthwise into long strips the same width as the pasta.
Peel the squash and dice it into 3/8-inch cubes. Remove the crusts from the bread and dice it into the same size pieces as the squash.
Heat the garlic slowly in the olive oil but do not let it brown. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Pour a little hot water over the currants and let them sit to plump up, then drain and combine with the dates.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Toss the bread cubes in a little of the garlicky olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Place the butternut squash cubes on the baking sheet (do not comingle with the bread) and drizzle a little olive oil over them (I used plain olive oil here), stirring to coat and sprinkling with salt. Reserve the remaining olive oil for finishing the dish. Roast in the oven for about 7-10 minutes, turning a couple of times. When done, remove to plate and reserve.
Meanwhile, when the water’s boiling, add the kale ribbons and blanch for a few minutes. The cooking time will depend on the age of the kale. Mine was young and fresh and cooked in about 3 minutes. In the winter, it might take 5-7.) Remove and separate the ribbons to cool (over the edge of a colander). Add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente. Drain.
Return the pasta and kale to the pot and toss with the remaining garlicky olive oil. Add the reserved dates and currants, and salt and pepper to taste.
When ready to sit down for the meal, toss in the squash and bread cubes and serve immediately.
Serves 2-3 as a main course.