If there is such a thing as the restaurant or restaurateur of the ‘moment’ in London then Polpo, and particularly Russell Norman, must be it. Right now, not only are they opening new branches and a new pub but Mr Norman himself is proving (or so I’m told; haven’t got past downloading it…) that food television doesn’t have to be all shouty-shouty, testosterone meanness, but can be considered, calm and constructive.
I never, ever get bored with Polpo either. For three reasons. One, it’s not particularly expensive (for London; I’m not going to start getting into that sort of discussion). Two, it’s always inspiringly different yet consistent and, three, I always always want to go back for more. And Mr Norman himself, who I had the pleasure of working with at Port Eliot in 2012, as he presided over making about 90 Aperol Spritzes, is just so down-to-earth and normal and charming that supporting and patronising good restaurants run by good people seems like a no-brainer.
So when I learnt, as I wrote last year, that there was a diminutive version of Polpo, or perhaps an offshoot is a better description, I was very disappointed to discover that it had opened and closed before you could say ‘pizzette’. So I resigned myself (it was a tough call…) to making things from One, Florence Knight’s rather lovely cook book. And this, well this has to be one of my favourite ways to cook a green vegetable in the world.
It seems appropriate really since kale, a bit like Polpo, is very much of the moment. You can’t read a food column or see a tweet about vegetables without it appearing. Unlike Polpo, I could get a teensy bit sick of it and its popularity. But this recipe is, like all good recipes, one that I can now sort of remember in my head. Which means it gets made a lot. And I have started chopping it down, so that I get the same effect without so much faff (and the original is a bit of a four-pot faff). If I was you, I would do the same. Toast the almonds, cook the shallots, thyme and garlic, steam the kale then toss the lot together. Simple and stunning.
(Oh and, by the way, Polpetto has just reopened so I’ll, you know, report back.)
Kale, with almonds and shallots (adapted from One)
For two as a light dish/side (bump it up with bread and it might just make dinner)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
fine sea salt
pinch of brown sugar (the proper soft stuff; Demerara or the like will not work)
whole almonds, 75g
shallots, 6 (I’ve used both banana and round; you need about 6 biggish ones of either sort)
thyme sprigs, 6
kale, 300g or so
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C/gas 4.
2. Toss the almonds in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt then spread them out on a baking sheet and bake them for 3-5 minutes until they start to smell toasty and change to a golden brown. Leave them to cool then roughly chop them. (You can do this step in advance if you want, especially if you don’t want to turn the oven on just for the nuts.)
2. Peel the shallots, cut off their root but leave them whole then wedge them into a lidded pan (not too big a pan; they should be snuggled up together), add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt and the thyme. Cover, place over a low heat and cook them until softening and collapsing and just colouring up nicely. (This, I have discovered, depending on the size of the shallots, can take anything from 15 minutes to 30.)
3. Whilst the shallots are cooking, peel, top and tail and crush the garlic (or in the last instance, when I forgot what to do, add it whole) and, once the shallots are soft, add the garlic and the sugar and leave to cook, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or so until you have a golden sticky shalloty mixture that smells divine.
4. Wash and trim the kale if necessary, then steam or boil it (as per your preference) for a couple of minutes, just so that it loses its crunch but not its bite. Drain.
5. Toss the kale and shallots together with the chopped almonds and serve.