There is only one thing to do with those tough, stringy kale stems after you’ve stripped them of their leaves and left them naked and alone on the cutting board.

No, it doesn’t involve the compost bin. Nor do you need a $500 blender to emulsify them into green smoothies. You simply need a plain old pot of salted water in which to blanch them. Once blanched, the stems are prepped and ready for you to use in myriad ways throughout the week.

Christine Burns Rudalevige removes blanched kale stems from a pot of boiling water. In this recipe, they join garlic, herbs, oil and lemon to make a pistou to top minestrone.

Blanching was the first cooking method I was assessed on as a culinary school student. The practical test was to trim a head of broccoli to yield as many usable spears and as little waste as possible. Then we plunged the spears into rapidly boiling, salted water to soften them and brighten their color; shocked them in cold water to set the green and halt the cooking process; drained them well and stored them properly so they could be pressed into service quickly when needed. From there, you could throw them into an omelet or onto a crudité platter or quickly sauté, stir-fry or microwave them to reheat them. I’ve since used this method to prep all kinds of vegetables en masse on Sundays for use throughout the week because it helps ensure that we eat them before they go bad in the bin.

But it wasn’t until my editor mentioned her frustration with the fact that most recipes that call for kale only use the leaves and instruct cooks to chuck out the fibrous stems (or stalks or ribs, whatever you care to call them) that I started using this technique to make them more palatable, delicious even. Once blanched, the tough stems soften, they lose their bitter edge, and they can be chopped to join their leaves in whatever recipe you’re making, be it kale salad, creamed kale, kale quick pickles or minestrone with kale stem pistou.

In the tests I’ve run in my kitchen, the variety of kale determines how long you must blanch the stems. Baby kale stems don’t need blanching at all, as – like most tender young things – they haven’t had time to toughen up. The stems of lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan or Dinosaur kale) are the most tender of the grownups and only need about 3 minutes in the boiling pot. Very cold-hearty, flat-leaf kale varieties like Siberian kale and Premier kale are just a bit tougher, especially toward their cut end, and benefit from a 4-minute blanch. The ribs of green curly kale and Russian red kale are the toughest of the bunch and require a good 6 minutes in the pot before they can be used in cooking. Once you’ve blanched, shocked and drained well your kale stems, they will store, wrapped in a towel in the refrigerator, for about one week.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


Pistou is a mashup of garlic, herbs and olive oil from Southern France that gets stirred into soup when you serve it. I like to use it because it adds a pop of color and fresh flavor to a long-simmered pot of anything so often served in the dead of winter.

Serves 6-8


3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs sage
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon, chopped (optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 (2-ounce) Parmesan cheese rind
2 medium yellow waxy potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
1 small celery root, peeled and chopped
1 bunch Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed and reserved, leaves torn into 1-inch pieces
3 cups cooked cannellini beans

Staff photo by Derek Davis

Stems from 1 bunch Tuscan kale, blanched and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup fresh basil or parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt

To make the minestrone, tie the thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves together with kitchen twine.
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the bacon, if using, and cook, stirring often, until browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon to a paper bag to drain. Add the onion, leek, fennel, garlic and red pepper flakes; season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring to coat, until slightly darkened, about 3 minutes.
Add the stock, tomatoes, herb bundle and Parmesan rind. Bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, carrots and celery root, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and compost the Parmesan rind and herb bundle. Add the kale leaves and beans; cook until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Let the soup sit for at least 1 hour before serving to let the flavors meld. It can be made ahead and stored 2 days in the refrigerator or up to 2 months in the freezer.
Prepare pistou while gently heating up the minestrone. Place the kale stems, garlic and herbs in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are all finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the oil and lemon zest; season with salt. Serve the soup topped with pistou and the reserved bacon.

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