Spaniards prepare dishes al ajillo by frying ingredients in hot garlic paprika oil. If you’re into tapas, chances are high you’ve run across the shrimp dish, Gambas al Ajillo. Here, kale is wilted in a smoky paprika oil and heaped generously on top of brothy white beans. My mom always put a few slices of chorizo in her white beans, but the smoked paprika in the kale al ajillo evokes the same flavor without using any meat. Garnished with freshly grated manchego cheese and served with crusty bread, this makes a richly flavored, hearty and satisfying meal perfect for these cold nights.
The benefit of cooking the kale separately from the beans is that it stays bright green and al dente. Additionally, if you want to blend up the leftover brothy beans into a creamy soup topped with some homemade croutons (like my mom used to do to make us leftovers-averse kids think we were eating a completely different dish), it will have a nicer, creamier color than if the kale had been cooked with the beans.
Pimentón ahumado, or smoked Spanish paprika, can be found in the spice section of many major grocery stores, specialty markets or online. It is usually sold in a small metal tin. It’s essential for that smoky, chorizo-like flavor.
Kale al Ajillo over Spanish White Beans
For the beans:
1 pound dried white beans, such as navy or alubias blancas, soaked in water overnight
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
3 large carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Water or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
For the kale al ajillo:
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon pimentón ahumado (smoked paprika)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 large bunch Tuscan kale, washed and dried completely, then chopped
Dash of sherry vinegar
Freshly grated manchego or parmesan for garnish
To make the beans, soak the white beans overnight in water to cover. In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, carrot and garlic and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft and the onions translucent.
Drain the presoaked beans and add them to the pot along with the thyme and bay leaf. Pour in enough water or vegetable stock to cover the beans by 1 to 2 inches. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil before reducing heat and simmering for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are very tender. Season generously with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
To make the kale al ajillo, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, pimentón, and red pepper flakes and saute for 30 to 60 seconds or until the garlic just starts to turn golden. Quickly add the kale — you may need to add the kale in batches, depending on size of skillet — and toss in the hot garlic oil, sprinkling with a bit of salt and pepper. As soon as the kale wilts slightly and turns brighter green, remove from the heat and toss with a dash of sherry vinegar.
To serve, ladle the beans into wide soup bowls and top with a heap of kale garnished with freshly grated manchego cheese. Serve hot with crusty bread.
Registered dietitian and food writer Laura McLively is the author of “The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook.” Follow her at @myberkeleybowl and www.lauramclively.com.
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