There’s more to kale than just the leaves – the stalks are edible, too

Don’t throw out those tough kale stalks: they’re delicious, steamed, fried or in a ‘risotto’ with barley, lemon and breadcrumbs

Kale is a nitrogen-thirsty leaf with a strong structure and thick stem that, without proper preparation, is often tough and stringy. To prepare it, hold the thick end of the stem in one hand and clasp the fingers of your other hand around the base of the leaf, then pull up hard to strip off the leaf and put to one side. Repeat, piling up the stems in a stack, then finely chop them into 5mm pieces. Cutting the stems crossways shortens the fibres, much as with a tough steak, making them perfectly edible and preventing waste. Cut this way, the stems can be cooked in the same way as the rest of the leaf: sauteed, boiled or steamed.

Kale and lemon barleyotto with breadcrumbs
Serves 4-6

The thick stems of a kale leaf make up a large proportion of its mass. Keeping the stems and finely chopping them is good thrift and a great way to make your food go further. In this recipe, the cooked kale leaves and stalks are pureed to make a vivid, green sauce that could easily be thinned to make a soup or, as it is here, used to dress barley.

Barley is a delicious alternative to rice, and it’s locally grown, too. It’s easy to cultivate and has a strong, deep root system that helps prevent soil erosion. It’s also an affordable and nutritious grain. Use it to bulk out broths, as a base for a wholegrain salad or in “risottos” that are known in Italy as barleyotto or orzotto.

1 glug extra-virgin olive oil
80g green leek tops, washed and finely sliced
80g onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
200g pot barley
½ unwaxed lemon, zested and juiced
2cm piece dried kelp (optional)
200ml white wine
200g kale
Breadcrumbs, to serve

Put the oil into a large, heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat, then gently sweat the leek tops, onion and garlic for five minutes, without colouring. Add the barley, half the lemon zest and the kelp, if using, and cook, stirring, for a minute. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, then pour in enough boiling water to cover and simmer gently, stirring regularly, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Top up with more boiling water and repeat, still stirring regularly, until the barley is cooked – about 45 minutes – then leave to rest.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Wash the kale and strip the leaves off the stalks. Finely shred the greens and cut the stalks into 5mm pieces, boil for two minutes, then drain, reserving the cooking water. Blend the kale to a puree, adding a little cooking water to loosen, if necessary. (You can keep any leftover cooking water as stock in your fridge or freezer.) Stir the puree into the barley and season well with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Spoon into bowls, top with the remaining lemon zest and the breadcrumbs, and serve.