Saturday, October 16, 2010

Achilles and Kale

There is a Chinese aphorism—at least I think it’s Chinese, it could be eastern-European gypsy for all I know—that goes something like, “A successful thief does not look like a thief”. Which leads directly and obviously to a question that has been bugging me for a little while, “What the hell do you feed a two-year old?"

I worked on a children's cookbook several years ago and the constant refrain from the Art Director was, “foods can’t touch each other.” As I obediently complied with this directive, I thought silently to myself, “Sadie will never take such a ludicrous attitude (I believe she was still breastfeeding at the time.) Real food touches and my child will eat real food!"

So here we are in the terrible twos and I get this fairly often: head turned slightly to the side, eyes closed to the offending plate, and with a haughty sweep of her arm, she pushes the plate to edge of her high-chair tray. And just in case I’m still unclear, she punctuates it with a simple and disdainful, “no!" Or just dumps it on the floor.

Now the only strategy that a parent finds readily at hand is what I’ll call the Separation & Confinement Policy. The basic metaphor is the wall (much like the United States’ Immigration policy along the Mexican border. Or Palestine, say. Or post-war Berlin.) Kids' plates in the store are steeped in the policy – little Berlin walls separating one part of the plate from the others, so that little Timmy’s peas don’t touch his mac-and-cheese which in turn doesn’t touch his chicken nuggets—fundamentally a TV-dinner. Or astronaut food.

But I’ve found myself yearning for a different policy, something that would turn the tables and put me back in charge of my two-year old's eating habits. I’m the man of house for god’s sake. I AM PAPI-WHAPI!

And so I’ve come up with what I call the Integration & Obfuscation Policy (sort of like forced busing or Beirut in the old days.) The metaphor here would be the Trojan Horse. The whole objective of the Integration & Obfuscation Policy is to render the child’s meal completely unrecognizable as to both form and content. I’ve found that her ability to exercise autonomous will hinges on the ability of her tiny brain to identify what’s in front of her. Remove her ability to identify say, kale, because it’s hidden inside a frittata, and she’ll happily shove cube after cube into her grinning little face. That rice she wouldn’t eat last night and is currently in a tupperware container in the back of the fridge—throw that in too. Day-old peas—absolutely. A leftover drumstick—certainly. You get the idea.

All you need is a food processor to whiz things beyond recognition and enough egg to bind it all back together. There is simply no end to what you can put in a frittata.

Then again, it may be the ton of cheese I slip into the recipe or the mountain of ketchup I put on the side, which she greedily “dips." Maybe the Integration & Obfuscation Policy isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Savory Kale Tart
Adapted from Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells

I know I was talking about frittata, but this tart is nothing more than a frittata in a pasty shell. I'll make it from scratch and we’ll have it for dinner with a salad. Frittata is more of a leftovers affair. Patricia’s recipe uses Swiss chard although I tend to use kale, but any leafy green will work. The great thing about this recipe is that the pastry uses olive oil instead of butter so there are no tricky methods or refrigerating.

1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup water

1 pound (500g) kale
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 large eggs
1 cup (100g) grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400˚

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and then blend in the water and oil. It should form a wet crumble. Dump the pastry into the center of a 10 ½ inch tart tin or dish. Form it into a ball and then press it out into an even layer. I usually press it up the sides of my tart dish, but I don’t know that it’s necessary.

Remove most of the hard stem from the kale and then roughly chop into 2 or 3 inch ribbons. Wash but don’t spin or dry the kale. In batches, coarsely chop the kale in the food processor.
Saute the kale in a large pan with a little oil and salt and pepper until the moisture has evaporated.

Combine the eggs and cheese in a medium bowl and mix until thoroughly blended. Mix in the kale. Pour into the pastry shell and bake for 40 minutes or until the filling is firm and has browned a little on the top.


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