Braised kale pasta with Avery's Maharaja: a truly fullfilling meal

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My good buddy Cale, whom I rarely get to see these days (alas, our old poker crew broke up years ago), called me up the other day.

"Dude," he said, lackadaisically, "I'm sitting in my truck, chewing tobacco, drinking beer and listening to music. What are you up to?"

"Are you driving?!" I quickly asked.

"Nah, I'm parked in front of my house. I was bored and wanted to get out and enjoy the sunshine, but it's too cold. Want to hang out?"

Of course I did, and was planning on cooking that afternoon anyway. So I told him to come over for a meal later. That way, he'd have time to sober up, and I'd have a chance to improvise -- and what better opportunity to do so than with kale, one of my favorite greens?

I lack the credentials to officially say it, but kale is obviously really good for you, due to its richness in certain vitamins and minerals widely thought to benefit the body and prevent diseases. A quick Google search proves as much, which is all well and good if you care to take the time to type it (which I did). But I happen to think relying on the Internet to learn such things is lame.

One look at a deeply colorful, distinctly textured leaf is all it takes to convince me that it's good for my health -- a natural instinct I'm fairly certain has more to do with my species than my personality.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend strolling through the produce aisle and picking out what stands out. More often than not, it will be with good reason. And if you do so at Marczyk Fine Foods, you'll be as hard-pressed to pass up the kale as you will the cheese display. It's a reasonably-sized, unpretentious selection of cheeses both functional and funky. I had to grab some of the Cacio Pecora from Fruition, though, my new favorite aged cheese, and in so doing, decided a pasta dish with the kale was in order.

Not surprisingly, strongly flavored bitter greens such as kale call to my mind strong American IPAs. So I stopped by Mr. B's Wine and picked up a bottle of the rightfully anticipated recently released Maharaja from Avery Brewing, a classic imperial IPA with a massive IBU measurement.

And the meal was wonderful. The particularly floral IPA was just right with the savory, salty pasta dish, creating a beautifully bitter bouquet that was perfectly punctuated by the kale...of both namesakes, now that I think of it.

Cale and I hadn't realized it, but until then, our friendship essentially consisted of poker pots (most of which I won) and drunken insults (most of which were directed at me). It was quite refreshing to get to know each other on a deeper level over a shared meal and some good beer. Like the vegetable, he's kind of bitter, but endearingly so, and as is usually the case, love has forced him to be that way. And even though I wish he'd lay off the chew, I will admit he is an extremely lovable guy.

Here's the recipe:

2 bunches of kale, stems and leaves roughly chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup grated, aged sheep's-milk cheese A handful of pasta Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. 2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. 3. Add garlic and sauté until it starts to brown, about a minute or so. 4. Add kale and a few pinches of salt and sauté until kale begins to wilt and become tender. 5. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes. 6. Add pasta to water and cook until desired doneness (meaning taste it; it's done when you like it). 7. Remove pasta with tongs straight from the pot into a large mixing bowl, skipping the strainer. 8. Add kale and cheese and gently toss until cheese begins to melt, adding pasta water if it becomes too dry.

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