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So I had planned to have a new post up for you last Thursday or Friday, or even Saturday at the latest...and now it's already Sunday! Last week was busy and stressful for me, and life gave me my share of lemons. So you know what they say: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." (Is it appropriate to add a number of vodka shots to that lemonade?)
But lets be honest, no matter how many lemons life pummels you with, no man can survive on lemonade alone (even if it is spiked with alcohol). So instead take your lemons and make an easy, healthy meal of Lemon-Garlic Kale Pasta.
This pasta relies on what I use as an old standby for weeknight meals: Plain boxed pasta dressed up with infused oil. I try to have a box or two of Barilla pasta in the pantry for nights when I want a filling meal but don't feel like making pasta from scratch; however, boxed pasta with store-bought pasta sauce is a less-than-appetizing meal, on both a taste and nutritional level. It is for this reason that I keep frozen homemade pasta sauce on hand, or that I make a sauce with high quality extra virgin olive oil infused with whatever strikes my fancy.
In the case of this pasta dish, the oil is simply infused with minced garlic and lemons, and then the lemon flavor is reinforced by adding lemon slices, juice and zest to the final dish. Now you might think that I am being all fancy-schmancy by saying that I am 'infusing' the oil, but really all you do is heat the oil over low-moderate heat in a skillet with the lemons and garlic. Infused oil can also be made by just adding ingredients to a bottle of olive oil, but then it needs to sit for awhile to let the flavors leech out into the oil; adding heat on the stovetop just speeds up the process. Either way, the infused flavor is not going to be extremely potent, but just enough to elevate the dish to delicious proportions.
Lemons simmering in extra virgin olive oil. The oil should be the right moderate temperature so when you add the lemons it does not splatter.
Now although a simple dish of pasta and lemon-garlic oil would be fabulous, I think it is important to sneak a little vegetable in there for good nutrition. And when it comes to nutrition, Kale is king. A member of the cabbage family, kale is rich in antioxidants, Vitamins C and K, beta carotene, iron, and also calcium. It comes in several different varieties, but the type that I used (and am showing here in photos) is Dinosaur Kale (also known as Lacinato or Tuscan Kale). Dinosaur kale is characterized by having a less 'curly' leaf than other kale varieties, a blue-green leaf color, and a surface that does look decidedly reptilian.
Although I am obviously recommending that you eat kale - it has a delicious nutty flavor and is highly nutritious - I would also strongly recommend that you wash it well before cooking. Kale is listed as one of the top 12 foods most contaminated by pesticides, so washing well before consuming is a must. Think about buying organic kale to avoid this, but still wash well to remove any dirt.
Glamour shot of a perfect water droplet!
I basically make this dish as a two-pot meal: I first cook the kale in a skillet, then remove it and set it aside until later, and I infuse the oil in the same skillet. Then while I am infusing the oil, I cook the pasta in a separate pot. And voila! Even with prep, dinner is ready in 30-45 minutes.
Part of the appeal of this dish is how quick and easy it is to make, but I also think it is great because the foundation is based on things most people have as pantry staples. Just head out and buy yourself some kale, and you are ready to go. If you can't find kale or don't really like it, you could also substitute chard leaves or spinach, but the subtle nutty flavor of the kale is really wonderful in this dish especially paired with the bright, tart lemons.
Easy Lemon-Garlic Kale Pasta
1/4 tsp + 1 tsp minced garlic
3 cups packed kale, sliced into ribbons
1/2 box pasta of your choice (8 oz)
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced into thin wedges
Zest and juice of one additional lemon
Extra olive oil for sauteing kale
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
Cook the kale: Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add 1/4 tsp minced garlic and sautee for just a few minutes. Then add kale and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 5-8 minutes, or until kale is just softened. (If you have cooked spinach before, the kale will not get as soft or 'wilted' as cooked spinach. It is a thicker, more fibrous leaf so it will still keep some of its crunch or bite even when cooked.) Use tongs or a spatula to transfer the cooked kale to a plate or bowl and set aside.
Boil the pasta: Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pasta is al dente, about 10-14 minutes.
Heat and infuse the oil: While pasta is boiling, add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to the same skillet you cooked the kale in. Heat the oil over low-medium heat, and then add 1 tsp minced garlic and one half of the sliced lemons. Continue to heat and cook the oil, lemon, and garlic, for about 10 minutes. Then strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve.
Toss pasta together: Drain the cooked pasta. Return the pasta to the pot, toss together with the infused lemon-garlic oil, add remaining one half of the sliced lemons, lemon zest and lemon juice. Toss together, add salt and pepper to taste, and top with pine nuts if you like. Serve immediately.