Nonee’s Cujado: Kale Re-visited.

So, Libby, you are totally right.  I had a horrible experience with kale.  One, as you said, I will never divulge to you in detail, as I fear it would forever change your relationship with kale, as well. It probably didn’t help that when it happened, I was in the 6th week of my pregnancy with Harvey, experiencing the early pangs of nausea and resultant bad food associations. 

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And, in kale’s defense, it was a “pre-cleaned,” pre-packaged container of kale.  The kale version of, say, gas station sushi.  Plus, it was raw, tossed into a salad I was loving at the time.  And, well, when I’m pregnant, I turn on almost all vegetables, favoring instead strange processed foods like Fruity Pebbles and salt and vinegar chips.

So, now, here I am almost a year later and I find myself wanting to venture into kale land once again.  Not raw kale.  Not yet.  But cooked has its appeal.

My grandmother, my Nonee, was Sephardic – did you know that?  It’s an ethnic division of Judaism heralding from Spain and Portugal - so lots of mediterranean influences. She was a wonderful cook, frequently doing the majority (brunt?) of the family entertaining and holidays. During those times, her table was laden with olives and feta, stuffed peppers, rosca (killer homemade bread - recipe later!), traditional hand pies and, my personal favorite, cujado (qui-ja-thoo).  It’s a sort of oven-baked frittata, made with eggs, cheese and fresh spinach.  Sometimes there were mushrooms.  Sometimes tomatoes.  Always, it incited Pavlovian responses of hunger, calling us to the table as the heady aroma of baked cheese filled the house, signaling that the meal was about to be served.

I usually make it according to her original recipe - it’s so good, one needn’t change it all.  However, one of the things that makes it such a great dish is that it is easy to exchange the components you don’t have for the ones you do.  If you don’t have cottage cheese, use ricotta.  If you want to add feta, or use cheddar instead of parm, go for it.  If you have too many sundried tomatoes lying around, throw em in there.  And, if you are all out of spinach and trying to figure out what to do with all the raw kale sitting in your fridge that your husband bought, well, this is the recipe for you.

As kale is so much more fibrous than spinach, I sautéed it first (with some onion – I can’t seem to sauté anything without onion), let it cool a bit, then mixed it into the rest of the ingredients.  That's it for assembly.

It takes a bit to cook, about 45 minutes or so, but that gives you ample time on a weeknight to bathe a dirty kid or do some piled-up laundry.  Unless you want to stay really true to my Nonee's recipe.  In which case you will use that time to enjoy a very large glass of wine.

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Nonee’s Cujado

Oven at 325.  Grease a pie plate or similar sized baking dish.

4 eggs
1 C  whole milk ricotta cheese
½-1 c grated parmesan, plus 2 T reserved
2 bunches kale, washed, thick center ribs removed, and cut crosswise into ½ inch thick slices (see note below)
½ medium onion, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by sautéing kale. Add two tablespoons of oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent, 5-8 minutes.  Add kale, stirring occasionally and cooking until nicely wilted and starting to carmelize, about 10 minutes.  If pan starts to brown too much, turn heat down a bit. Let cool a few  minutes.

Meanwhile, gently beat eggs together. Add ricotta, mixing until smooth.  Fold in all but the 2 reserved tablespoons of parmesan cheese.  Stir in cooled kale and onion mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into pan and sprinkle remaining parmesan on top. Bake at 325 for 40-50 minutes, until slightly puffy and lightly golden on top.  Serve warm. 

Note: I realize two bunches of kale is about as non-scientific as it gets, but again, that highlights the magic of the dish.  I used two HUGE bunches, and it turned out less eggy, more vegetable-y.  You can fudge this part to your liking and still end up with fantastic results.