Introducing. . . the kale sprout.
Look at how ruffly and cute they are!
That's all great, you say, but what IS a kale sprout exactly?
Kale sprouts are a cross between Russian red kale and Brussels sprouts. In case you wonder if that means these are another GMO monster we must worry about, the answer is no. Kale sprouts are HYBRIDS.
GMO (genetically modified organisms) have their DNA (the organism's "blueprint") mechanically altered. Some trait is physically removed and new trait is physically inserted into the cellular material that determines what the plant will look like and what its strengths and weaknesses potential will be. Hybridization refers to cross-pollination that eventually leads to plants exhibiting desirable characteristics, which are determined by the grower. Hybrid plants develop with human help. Remember Gregor Mendel and his sweet peas experiment? That is an example of how hybridization works.
In a hybridized species of plants, next generation seedlings will often revert back to the parent material, which is why they continue to need human help with cross pollination. Occasionally, they can't reproduce at all ( mules (horse x donkey) are an example.)
Open pollination may enable different strains of plants to cross pollinate, but seeds from those cross pollinated plants will generally reproduce the new strain of plant, not the parent plants, so we call these non-hybrids (heirloom seeds may be included in this group). GMO seeds also never go back to the "parent state" because their genetic make up has been permanently altered. They may or may not be able to reproduce (often, not). In addition, there is no guarantee that the newly inserted genetic material came from a plant. For example, fish genes have been used to alter the flavor and shelf life of some strawberries and tomatoes.
This isn't a blog about food politics, but I have to say that I get quite weirded out by the whole "let's cross kingdoms" thing. Does this mean I think GMO research should stop? No. As a scientist, I cannot deny that potential benefits may exist, but think that perhaps we don't understand enough about the long term implications for human health and on the environment (not to mention a few ethical concerns I have). Soap box discussion for another time, so please refrain from snarky or provocative commenting, thank you. Feel free to email me, though. I love to learn and appreciate hearing about new research. The information in the previous paragraphs is over simplified and offered up solely because I think people are much more aware of and interested in what they call 'food.' Plus. . .I find it interesting. My professional background is centered around ecological restoration, food security and human rights (teaching as a career came later) so this stuff hits my nerdy happy place.
Back to kale sprouts. . . .
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
4 clove garlic - minced
3 Tblsp olive oil
1/2 C. dry white wine (vermouth can substitute, or use broth if you like)
juice from one fresh squeezed lemon
1 qt of your favorite stock heated and kept warm in a saucepan - a light veggie stock that includes fennel and no tomatoes would be ideal, but chicken is a good alternative
About 1 lb of kale sprouts, cleaned and sliced in half from stem to top (or brussels sprouts)
1/2 c. pancetta, diced.
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic glaze to taste
shaved parmesean or grana padano cheese for garnish
1. Cook the risotto -
a. Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent over medium heat in a large, shallow skillet, or dutch oven. Add the arborio rice and saute for a few minutes more. You are toasting the rice. It is IMPORTANT that you have your broth already heated and in a saucepan close to the pan you are using for the rice. You will add the broth a cup at a time. Cold broth will increase cooking time and result in soggy rice. Add 1/2 the minced garlic toward the end of the rice toasting time.
b. Deglaze the pan with the dry white wine/ vermouth/ broth. Stir the rice gently until the liquid has been absorbed.
C. Keeping the heat on medium, add a cup of warm broth to the rice. Stir gently until the liquid has been absorbed.
D. Repeat step C until the rice is tender, but not squishy - taste it as you go to tell. You should be able to chew the rice without it dissolving in your mouth. You should also be adjusting the flavor with salt and pepper during this time. Not too much salt - keep the risotto bright. It should also have a little creaminess/ sauciness. You don't want it liquid like soup, but do want it to appear moist and a little shiny.
2. Cook the kale sprouts and pancetta.
A. About half way through the cooking of the rice, start rendering your pancetta in a skillet set to medium low heat.
B. When the rice is cooked, turn up the heat to medium high and add the kale sprouts to the skillet once the pancetta begins to sizzle. Saute for about 3 min.
C. Add the remaining garlic to the skillet and saute about three minutes more.
3. Combine and serve
A. - Toss the risotto rice with the lemon juice, adjust salt and pepper as needed
B. Portion the rice into your serving dishes
C. Toss the kale sprouts with a little balsamic dressing or glaze while still in the skillet.
D. Portion the kale sprout/ pancetta over the risotto rice. Sprinkle with the shaved parm as desired.
1. Rendering the pancetta is important. You want it to be a little crisp but don't want to lose the flavor added by the fat, or need to add more fat when you add the kale sprouts. Slow cooking with meet both those needs.
2. If you don't eat meat, leave the pancetta out, but do consider adding a small amount of braggs aminos or veggie Worcestershire sauce for the deep flavor note the pancetta would have provided. Use a fruity, full bodied olive oil (not extra virgin insipid oil) for sauteing the sprouts. Another option would be to roast the sprouts with the fruity olive oil and large crystal sea salt.
3. Sprouts with thick stems may not cook as well as you want them to. If this concerns you, then blanch them or cut the stems out.
4. It may feel like this is complicated but it isn't. It won't be the fastest dinner you ever make, but it is lovely and worth it.