When it's time to overhaul the seasonal menu at Cafe del Rey, chef Daniel Roberts has developed a rough template: He runs through what's fresh at both the farmers and fisherman's markets along with flavor profiles he'd like to feature. "I've been executive chef [including restaurants such as Asia de Cuba and Baleen] now for 10 years and I've been in this industry for over 21 years. I've written a lot of menus. It becomes second nature to where you can see the flavors in your head," he says.
Roberts will refer to purveyors for a sense of what's in season. He's got market reports and a library of books as well. But he keeps the menu development process somewhat loose, accommodating improvisations. When he decided to revamp the flavor of the lemon farfalle dish for the summer, he was already looking into lollipop kale for the menu. It took less than an hour to assemble a pesto pasta dish with two different varieties of kale cooked two ways.
"The dish has baby Tuscan kale pesto and sautéed lollipop kale. There's baby heirloom tomatoes, ricotta, toasted pine nuts and garlic. It's a great vegetarian dish that works really well for the summertime."
For those unfamiliar with lollipop kale, it's a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. Roberts says the leaves are no bigger than about two inches in length; there are four to five per stalk; the colors are a mix of green and purple; and the taste may be a little bit more bitter than other kales.
The chef shared a modified recipe of the lemon farfalle on the current menu at the Marina del Rey restaurant.
Lollipop Kale Pesto Pasta
From: Daniel Roberts
Lollipop Kale Pesto Sauce:
1 cup baby Tuscan kale
½ cup fresh basil leaves
3 Tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup blended extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1. Blanch basil and kale in boiling salted water. Shock in ice bath and squeeze out water.
2. In a blender, add kale, basil and garlic; then slowly stream in oil. Stream in a little bit of water to help emulsify, making sure not to add too much Season with salt to taste. The pesto can keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup baby heirloom tomatoes
2 tablespoons small diced shallots
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup lollipop kale (or baby Tuscan kale if lollipop kale can't be located)
2 cups cooked farfalle, cooked (farfalle is suggested, but any type of pasta can be used)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
½ cup Lollipop Kale Pesto Sauce (recipe above)
4 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1-2 tablespoons ground Grana or Parmeggiano Reggiano
1. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add tomatoes and allow to blister.
2. Add shallots, garlic, and kale; sauté together for a minute.
3. Add in pasta and pine nuts. Pour sauce over the vegetables and pasta. Mix in ricotta cheese, flipping contents a few times. Divide pasta into two dishes and top with ground Grana or Parmeggiano Reggiano.
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