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Sauteed Shrimp and Peas with Prosciutto and Blistered Tomatoes

Sarah writes: I’m cleaning out my freezer and discovered that I have a heck of a lot of frozen peas (like 5 bags worth!). I also have  some frozen shrimp and I know those two go together. Ideas on the pairing?

Tony’s take: Sarah, thanks for writing! And good for you on the organizing; please, help me! As you suggested, shrimp and peas are an opportune combo to have in the freezer: you can saute the shrimp with high heat and fold in the peas along with any number of easy, accompanying flavors. Your peas’ plight inspired me, so I  went to the supermarket to gather for my own version, which was exceedingly simple: after browning (and reserving) the shrimp, I sauteed smashed garlic gloves and pierced cherry tomatoes in the same pan until both were lightly browned, then I added a splash of white wine  to deglaze the pan and tossed in the peas, some strips of prosciutto,  and a sprinkling of fresh mint. It was actually kinda dressy (and very unfreezer-like). Give it a try; serve with some sort of grain or vegetable or other overflowing-freezer-foodstuff (ice cream??).

THE RECIPE: Serves 4. Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes; Cook time: about 8 minutes.

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1. Get prepped:  Thaw, peel and devein  1 lb. shrimp (preferably 16-20 ct). Rinse and pat dry, then sprinkle lightly with S+P (about 1/2 tsp. each). Thaw 2 cups frozen peas (about 8 oz.)- just leave them out at room temp for 15 min. Wash 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, pat dry, and then pierce with the tines of a fork (try to get a couple of holes in each, but don’t stress about it). Thinly slice the 4 slices prosciutto (about 2 oz.; the domestic stuff is fine) and chop any fresh herbs you have  (1 tsp. thyme, 2 Tbs. mint or 1 Tbs. tarragon).

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2. Saute the shrimp: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil and, once it’s shimmering hot, add the shrimp, evenly spaced. Cook, undisturbed,until the shrimp start to brown at the edges and easily release from the pan, 1 to 2 min. Flip and cook until the other side browns, too, and the shrimp starts to firm up, 1 minute.  Transfer to a large plate.

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3. Make the saute:  Add another 1 Tbs. olive oil, garlic cloves (smashed) and the grape tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, tossing, until the tomatoes and garlic brown lightly. Add a splash of white wine (about 1/4 cup ) and cook, stirring, to incorporate any of the caramelized crust on the bottom of the pan. Return the shrimp to the pan along with the peas and cook, stirring, until peas heats through and the shrimp is firm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the prosciutto, 1 Tbs. butter (for a little richness) and the herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste; add a little lemon juice if the saute needs some bounce.

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Spicy Chipotle-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf

Cindy writes: Bit of a divide in my house over meatloaf. My husband and kids love it. Me, not so much. Any suggestions for a healthy (but tasty!) take? Maybe turkey? That would win me over…

Tony’s take: Cindy, thanks for the question! The truth of the matter is that I don’t make meatloaf often, so, your predicament has been a good excuse for me to brush up on my technique. I like your idea to head in a healthy direction. Meatloaf always feels heavy. Subbing turkey in for beef is a nice way to lighten things up. I used this as the basic premise and tested a couple of variations (including trying to go really healthy and work some grains and greens into the mix). All were good, though the version I liked best consisted of ground dark meat turkey surrounded with plenty of other big flavors (chiles, cumin, and chorizo), baked gently with a smoky chipotle glaze. Here’s how:

Free-form bake: You can make meatloaf in a baking dish, though, through testing, I found I liked it best baked free-form; that is, set in the middle of a baking sheet (on foil) and formed into a loaf. This method allows the meatloaf to brown all over and get a pleasant crust as opposed to steaming in the tight quarters of a casserole dish; closer to a roast than baking.

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The flavors: Go big. Though ground white meat turkey is well intentioned, for this preparation, you’ll want dark meat’s extra hit of fat and flavor. I added fresh jalapeno to some sauteed onions and pepper and then worked the smoked version of that chile into both the breadcrumbs and the finishing glaze. As with meatballs, the addition of breadcrumbs (softened with a splash of milk) breaks up the density of the meat and gives the overall meatloaf a lighter feel.

THE RECIPE: Serves 6 to 8

1. Saute the aromatics and spices: Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 red onion (finely diced), 1 red pepper (finely diced) and 1 jalapeno (seeded if you like and then finely diced), sprinkle with 1 tsp. kosher salt, and cook, stirring, until the onion becomes tender and browns in places, about 5 min. Stir in 1 garlic clove (minced), 2 tsp. ground cumin and 1/2 tsp. ground chipotle powder and cook for 1 min so they become fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool.

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2. Make the chipotle crumbs and glaze: Tear 6 oz. whole wheat bread into small (1-inch) pieces (about 2 cups) and set in a medium bowl. Add 1 canned chipotle (chopped) and 1/2 cup whole milk and let sit for a couple of min so the bread absorbs the liquid. In a food processor or mini-chop, blend 1/2 cup honey with 1/2 cup ketchup, another 1 – 2 canned chipotles (chopped), and 1 Tbs. cider vinegar until uniform. meatloaf.2 3. Mix and form the meatloaf: Heat the oven to 375F (do this in step 1 if you’re not preparing ahead). Add 2 lb. ground turkey (dark meat) to a large bowl and gently mix with 1 link chorizo (about 4 oz., cut in 1/4-inch dice), the sauteed vegetables (use a spatula to get all that good stuff out of the pan), the chipotle crumbs, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper until the mix is uniform. Transfer this mixture to the center of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (and lightly greased with nonstick spray) and form into a loaf shape (about 12 inches x 4). Spoon/brush the chipotle sauce over the top.meatloaf.1 4. Bake: Bake the meatloaf until it browns lightly and cooks through (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 165F), about 50 min. Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 min, then cut and serve.

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Baked Shells with Tuscan Kale and Wild Mushrooms

Tony writes: The cooking mysteries that grip me tend to come from the good food memories of my youth. Occasionally, though, I will remember eating something so terrible that it causes me to wonder. Stuffed shells are one of those things. Not that they were ever as horrible as liver and onions, but the shells I ate as a kid were consistently bad no matter the cook or venue: pasta filled with an impossibly large glop of plain ricotta,  swimming in a mess of jarred tomato sauce. And here’s the mystery: to this day, I’m still not sure why anybody couldn’t do  better (or at least different). Stuffing things – pasta, chicken breasts, olives, pizza crusts, whatever – normally produces wonderful results. So why can’t stuffing work with a pairing as pleasant as pasta, cheese, and sauce?

Following a recent middle-school flashback, I’ve become obsessed with getting stuffed shells right. A handful of attempts culminated  in a dramatic breakthrough of a dinner, in which the shells fulfilled all the promise that pasta and cheese could ever hope for. So, I thought I would share my basic technique; maybe it will allow you, too, to get past the stuffed shell memories of your youth.

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The plan: Two basic elements can make stuffed shells special: the first is the stuffing, which should be interesting (ie: more than just cheese), and the second is the sauce, which should not only complement the shells, but also stand out. To achieve the former, I’m fine with using ricotta as a base, but I like to embellish it; be it simple (chopped fresh herbs) or involved (sauteed kale and mushrooms) as in this version. Secondly, the sauce should have something to it: herbs, spice, heat, anything. Here’s my version:

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1. Make the mushroom-kale  filling: Saute 1 garlic clove  (smashed) with 2 Tbs. olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic sizzles steadily and becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add 10 oz. mix thinly sliced mushrooms (shiitakes, oyster, and cremini), and 1/2 red bell pepper (thinly sliced) and sprinkle with 1 tsp. kosher salt. Cook, without touching, until the mushrooms start to brown, about 2 minutes. Cook, tossing, for another minute or so until the mushrooms just start to soften. Stir in 8 oz. chopped kale (the bagged stuff is fine), sprinkle with salt, and cook, tossing, until it just wilts, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Press out (and pour off) any excess moisture (to keep the mixture from becoming watery in the oven), discard the garlic cloves and mash with 1 lb. whole milk ricotta1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

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2. Make the sauce and boil the shells: Bring a large of salted water to a boil. Cook 1 box pasta shells (12 oz; I like Barilla; good texture, durable, affordable) until tender but toothy, about 9 minutes. Strain and cool under running water.  While the pasta is cooking, make a quick sauce. I like bolstering the earthiness of the mushrooms and kale with a meat sauce. To make the sauce, saute 2 garlic cloves (smashed) with 2 Tbs. olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the garlic sizzles steadily and becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Discard the garlic (it’s already done its flavoring thing) and add 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and 1 lb. Italian sausage (removed from the casing) and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage browns. Add a 28-oz can whole tomatoes (and their juices) and a sprinkling of whatever fresh herb you used for the ricotta filling (thyme?). Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the sauce to a gentle simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage cooks through and enriches the sauce, about 30 minutes. Season generously with S+P to taste.

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3. Assemble and bake: Heat the oven to 425F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and then spread an even layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Using a small spoon, fill the shells with the ricotta mixture; don’t overfill them – you should be able to fold the shells back over the cheese. Set the stuffed shell in the baking dish and repeat with the remaining cheese and pasta; you’ll get about 1 1/2 layers. Top with the sauce, spreading it even and then top with some grated Parmigiano and some thin slices of fresh mozzarella. Note: you can do this assembly up to 2 days ahead. Bake the pasta until the shells and cheese brown and the filling and sauce bubble around the edges of the baking dish, 25 minutes. Serve with something green and enjoy.

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Stuffed Peppers with Bulgur, Feta, and Herbs

A friend was asking me about stuffed peppers the other day. How one would go about making them, etc… My answer was kinda vague. I can’t remember the last time I made stuffed peppers, though I do have good memories of them; they were the kind of dish that would magically appear on the dinner table whenever one of my grandmothers visited: big green peppers, roasted until tender, stuffed with a mix of beef and rice and a slow simmered tomato sauce. Since my buddy asked, I have played around with stuffed peppers a handful of times in my own kitchen, the first couple taking a traditional tack, and, since then, veering in a slightly healthier direction. And it’s the latter which has become my thing. We’re at that time of year when  holidays and parties and holiday parties cause calorie counts to go off the tracks. Healthy, but filling, dishes are a necessary course. These peppers, stuffed with grains and herbs and beans are my new go-to. Here’s how:

The method: The concept is pretty simple: hollow out bell peppers and  stuff with a mix of  grains, ground meat, and vegetables. Browned ground beef and rice is the standard, but I like grains and legumes to serve as the “meat”. To make the preparation more weeknight-friendly, I have taken to cooking the grains a day or two before; I just make some extra bulgur or quinoa at a prior meal so there are leftovers. Then saute some aromatics until tender, add the grain to heat through, and toss with flavor-packed pantry items (like fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, canned beans and so on). Spoon into the peppers, cover with the stem, and bake until completely tender and the filling heats through (it’s best to err to the side of really cooking the crap out of the peppers so they are tender) .

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The Recipe: Serves 4

1. Get prepped: Heat the oven to 425F.  Using a paring knife and working in a circular pattern at the top,  core and stem 4 bell peppers (about 1 1/4 lb; use whatever colors you like). Slice off and discard the seed core but save the stems. Peel 2 carrots (about 8 oz.) and cut in 1/2-inch dice. Finely dice 1 red onion (about 8 oz)..Trim 4 oz green beans and cut in 1-inch pieces.

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2. Saute the filling:  Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced carrots and onion, sprinkle with 3/4 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the onion browns lightly and becomes tender, about 6 minutes. Add the green beans and 1 tsp. ground cumin and saute for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with 3 cups cooked bulgur (or quinoa), 1 cup canned garbanzos4 oz feta (crumbled, about 1 cup), 3 scallions (trimmed and thinly sliced), 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives, and 2 sun-dried tomatoes (chopped). Taste for salt and pepper.

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3. Bake the peppers: In a large bowl, toss the cored peppers with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Set the peppers, upright, on a roasting dish and spoon the filling into each. Top with the stem and bake until the peppers brown and are completely tender and the filling is completely heated through, about 30 minutes.

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4. Serve: In a small bowl whisk togeher 3 Tbs. olive oil and 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Drizzle over the peppers and serve

Charred Pork and Green Chile Chili

Tony writes: In New England, the warmth of late summer abruptly transitions  to butt-ass-cold autumn days. On my Sundays off, once I get scared off from the grill, I immediately turn to the oven or the slow-cooker or both. This chili is my belated realization of summer’s end. I wanted it to be braisy with chunks of  pork and Anaheim chiles. But I also wanted get some smoky char on each (without venturing out to the grill).  So I spiced the vegetables and pork, broiled them until they were kinda burnt,  and then dumped everything in the slow cooker to  do their thing. It was smoky and spicy and warming. Here’s how:

The Recipe: Serves 6-8 (or makes a lot of leftovers)

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1. Prep and season the meat and vegetables: Cut 3 lb. boneless pork shoulder (aka “pork butt”) into 1-inch dice; trim and discard any large fatty patches as you go Slice 1 large red onion into 1/2-inch wedges and cut  3 Anaheim chiles into 1-inch segments (leave the seeds in).

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2. Broil the pork, chiles and onions: Heat the broiler to high and set an oven rack about 6 inches away from the heating element. In a small bowl, mix 1 Tbs. granulated sugar, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder. Sprinkle over the pork, toss well with 1 Tbs. olive oil and spread in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Set the peppers and onions on another baking sheet, drizzle with another 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle generously with S+P. Alternately broil the pork and then the vegetables, shaking each pan as they broil, until meat and vegetables are browned, about 5 minutes each.

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3. Add to slow cooker and press play: Transfer the pork and vegetables to a slow cooker along with 2 cups chicken broth (or water), a 15-oz can pinto beans (rinsed and drained), a 15-oz can cannellini beans (rinsed and drained), 2 Tbs. cider vinegar, 3 ea bay leaves and 1  tsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried oregano). Set the slow cooker to 8 hours, cover, and cook. If you are around (and not at work), occasionally defat the broth while it cooks. If not, just do so when you get home.

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4. Season, garnish, and serve: Season the broth with S+P to taste. Ladle the chili into bowls and serve with lime wedge, sliced radish and chopped fresh cilantro.

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Basque Style Chicken with Peppers and Onions

Tony writes: The construct may be tired – “I would eat ___________ (insert inedible objet here)  if it were _________ (insert prep method) and  then _________________ (insert cooking technique)!” -, but it speaks to me in one instance: dredge something, anything, in flour and  then braise it in a tomato broth and I’m in my comfort food happy place. Yeah, I would eat”shoe leather” in this equation, but bone-in chicken is really my thing. The fat from the chicken (what my grandmother called schmaltz) blends with the flour to form the most wonderful of rouxs that then thickens the tomatoes. Cacciatore has always been my favorite, but I like to use this basic flour-chicken-tomato  formula to branch out, adding in whatever other fresh herbs and vegetables I’ve got on hand. My new thing has been to steer the pairing in a Spanish direction. The broth gets its cue from a Basque piperade sauce with peppers, onions, cumin and espelette pepper leading the way. Here’s how:

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The Recipe: Serves 4

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1. Prep the chicken and vegetables: Rinse a whole chicken (about 4 lb.) and pat dry with paper towel. Cut into 10 pieces and then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, about 2 tsp. and 1 tsp. respectively. Core 2 red bell peppers (about 1 lb.)  and cut in 1/2-inch dice;  finely dice 1 Spanish onion (about 3/4 lb); smash 2 garlic cloves and chop 2 tsp. fresh thyme. Stem and then coarsely chop 1 bunch Tuscan kale.
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2. Saute the chicken: Add 1 cup all-purpose flour to a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake to remove any excess. Add 2 Tbs. olive oil to the pre-heated pot and reduce the heat to medium. Add half of the chicken, evenly spaced. Cook, undisturbed, for 2 min, so the chicken browns and easily releases when you lift  an edge. Flip and cook the other side for 2 min so that it, too, browns. Transfer to a large plate. Add another 1 Tbs. olive oil and the remaining chicken pieces, cook in the same manner, and transfer to the plate.basque.8

3. Saute the vegetables and make the broth:  Add another 1 Tbs. olive oil  to the pot and the diced onion and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. kosher salt and cook, still over medium heat, until the onions brown lightly and soften, about 10 min. Add the smashed garlic, 2 tsp. ground cumin and 1/2 tsp. espelette pepper (or 1/4 tsp of pimenton or chipotle powder) and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds so the spices become fragrant.

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4. Braise: Add a 28-oz can whole tomatoes  (pureed) and 2 bay leaves and  bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer (medium-low), return the chicken to the pan, cover, and cook, checking every 15 minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked through and the broth intensifies in flavor, about 1 hr.

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4. Season and serve: Stir in 1 Tbs. sherry vinegar and the Tuscan kale and stir until the greens wilt. Season with S+P to taste and serve.

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Italian Fried Rice with Basil, Peas and a Poached Egg

Tony writes: I have always loved the practicality of fried rice: you take a very unsexy leftover ( rice) and pair it with things you really should have hanging around your kitchen: peas (freezer), eggs (fridge), and some sort of ham or smoked pork product (Vermont Smoke and Cure ham steaks are my go-to these days…). The end result is homemade and special and even kinda sexy in a weeknight sort of way. In spite of my  affinity for jasmine, I have started subbing sturdy, short-grain brown rice into the preparation (part of my new, healthy-at-40 regimen); I also have been directing my fried rice excursions in worldly directions, beyond the standard Asian take (toasted sesame oil and soy). My favorite is an Italianish version – sun-dried tomatoes, basil, Parmigiano, and a poached (or sunny-side up) egg. You’ll notice from the jumble of photos, I’ve tried a number of different pairings – broccoli in place of the peas, a sunny side up egg instead of the poached – and they’ve all been really good; here’s how:

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The recipe; Serves 4

1. Get prepped: Crumble 3 cups cooked brown rice; use your fingers to separate the grains more or less. Set out 1 1/2 cups frozen peas to thaw at room temp. Slice 6 oz. ham into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/4 cups). Chop 3 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly slice 4 scallions (both white and green parts), and wash and pat dry 10 basil leaves.

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2. Stir-fry the ham (and or vegetables): Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 Tbs. sunflower oil (or canola oil) and the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until the ham browns, about 3 min. If you like, add green vegetables (like 2 cups broccoli florets or 1 cup diced zucchini or thinly sliced asparagus), sprinkle with salt, and saute until lightly browned, 2 to 3 min; note, hold off on the peas until later.

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 3. Add the rice and flavorings: Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it heats through, 2 to 3 min. Stir in the peas, sun-dried tomatoes, scallions, and basil and cook, tossing so everything mixes and melds, about 1 min.

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4. Serve: Spoon onto plates, top with poached eggs, sprinkle with Parmigiano, and serve with fresh lemon and Tabasco.

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Garlicky Braised Meatballs with Rosemary and Tuscan Kale

tonyr_cook_k Tony writes: Meatballs and greens are my version of having vegetables and (actually) eating them (because of the meatballs), too. The pairing had me at Italian wedding soup, but I’ve found it also adapts nicely to other global flavors (see this Vietnamese soup). As we come to the end of the cold weather (loudly knocking on table top), I couldn’t resist the urge to get in one last braise… and have another go at meatball and greens. For this effort, I wanted to return to my first love, Italian wedding soup, and make it bigger, more rustic: in my vision, the meatballs would be largish and seasoned the way you do for sauce (breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, herbs, etc…). And the greens would be hardier: slowly braised kale. And the result was actually pretty wonderful, definitely worth a try. Here’s how:

– Tuscan kale:  Lost in the kale craze is that this green can be more than just frill. I’ve long been a fan of Tuscan kale (aka “lacinato kale” or “dinosaur kale”). This varietal, traditional in ribolita and minestrone, boasts flat, dimpled leaves with the same kind of nutritional power as the frilly stuff. But it’s more delicate in both flavor and texture and goes perfectly in this quick braise. soup.4 – The meatballs and method: One of my pet peeves regarding meatballs is when they’re packed with raw garlic, a certain recipe for indigestion. I like adding garlic from the outside in and keeping the seasoning relatively delicate: fresh rosemary and grated Parmigiano, an egg to help bind the meat together, and a light sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs. After forming and searing the meatballs, I reserved them and then slowly browned smashed garlic cloves to serve as the aromatic base for the braise.soup.5 The Recipe: Serves 4

1. Form the meatballs: Add 1 1/2 lb ground meat (I used 3/4 lb each of pork and beef) to a large bowl. Gently mix with 1/2 cup Parmigiano, 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs, 1 egg (beaten), 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Form into 1-inch meatballs, dampening your hands occasionally with cold water to help form. soup.6 2. Sear the meatballs: Heat a large Dutch oven (or heavy-based pot) over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add 1 Tbs. olive oil (you don’t need a bunch of oil; the meatballs should render plenty of fat). Once the oil is shimmering hot, add half of the meatballs evenly spaced, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until they brown nicely and easily release when you lift up a piece, about 2 min. Roll the meatballs over and cook the other sides until browned, about 2 more min. Transfer to a large plate and cook the remaining meatballs in the same manner, reserving on the same plate after searing.

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3. Greens and braise: Add another splash of olive oil (as needed) as well as 3 garlic cloves (smashed) and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant and lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and 1 tsp. fresh rosemary and swirl around the pan for 15 seconds. Add 1 bunch Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb; stemmed, washed, and cut in 1-inch strips), sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring, until the kale starts to soften and wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-salt canned) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer (medium-low), return the meatballs to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs completely cook through and the greens become tender, 45 min to 1 hr.soup.34. Season and serve: Spoon off and discard any fat on the surface of the broth (if you like).  Stir in 1 Tbs. lemon juice, season with S+P to taste, and serve sprinkled with 3/4 cup Parmigiano. (Note: stir 1 tsp. sugar into the broth to balance out the slight bitterness of the greens if you like).