kale blossoms, or flower buds, look like brocolli rabe, but taste much milder.Last week, I noticed that my ‘Dinosaur’ kale plant was about to bloom. Bummer, I thought. Bolting lettuce is bitter. Bolting chard is bitter. So, I figured, bolting kale must be bitter too. Time to pull the over-wintered beauty out of the garden and toss it into the compost heap.

But, wait… Those flower buds look an awful lot like loose broccoli heads. Or — even more so — broccoli rabe. And, kale is related to broccoli and broccoli rabe. So…

Why not eat the kale blossoms?

I asked around on Facebook and Twitter, and did a quick google search. Not much out there on cooking kale flowers. So, I decided to follow my hunch, and treat them like broccoli rabe (note: it turns out that kale flowers are much milder than broccoli rabe and broccoli).

In the end, I developed a wicked craving for one of my favorite broccoli and broccoli rabe recipes: The classic Italian pasta dish with broccoli rabe, garlic and red pepper. Decision made. I’d adapt the classic recipe to work with my unusual ingredient: kale flowers.

But, then, I got a recipe suggestion from a friend. And, not just any friend. This guy is the manager at my favorite local restaurant, and he knows good food (Seriously. If you’re near Warrenton, Virginia, check out Iron Bridge Wine Company on Main Street. You won’t be disappointed.).

When the manager of your favorite restaurant suggests a recipe, you make that recipe.

So, I decided to divide the kale harvest in half. Half would go to the pasta, and half would be sautéd with lemon and butter and white wine, as my friend suggested.

The harvest was simple: I used kitchen shears to clip each flower stalk at about the point where it seemed to get tough. Each stalk measured about 8-12 inches, and varied in width from pinkie- to thumb-sized.

'Dinosaur' kale flower buds look just like the flower buds on broccoli and broccoli rabe. No surprise: the three plants are distant relatives.

'Dinosaur' kale flower buds look just like the flower buds on broccoli and broccoli rabe. No surprise: the three plants are distant relatives.

To prepare the kale, I stripped off all the tiny leaves and any small florets. Then, I trimmed the flower stalk down to 2-4 inch segments. I used all of this — the leaves, the small florets and the stalk and larger flower buds — in both recipes. In the end, I harvest almost exactly a pound of kale, so each recipe got a half-pound (note: This means the pasta recipe is for a half-pound of pasta, not a full pound).

Each kale flower stalk measured about 8-12 inches long, and included a bunch of leaflets and florets, as well as the main flower bud. Keep it all — it's all tasty!

Each kale flower stalk measured about 8-12 inches long, and included a bunch of leaflets and florets, as well as the main flower bud. Keep it all — it's all tasty!

Then, once the kale was picked and prepped and cleaned, I cooked it. And, let me tell you, it was good.

Kale flowers are delicious, mild, and very quick and easy to cook. Both of these recipes are definite keepers. (Front: Kale Blossoms with Pasta, Garlic and Red pepper. Back: Kale Blossoms with Lemon and Butter)

Kale flowers are delicious, mild, and very quick and easy to cook. Both of these recipes are definite keepers. (Front: Kale Blossoms with Pasta, Garlic and Red Pepper. Back: Kale Flowers with Lemon and Butter)

Kale Blossoms, with Pasta, Garlic and Red Pepper

Once I decided those kale blossoms looked like broccoli rabe, I couldn’t get the thought of spaghetti and broccoli rabe out of my head. Would the kale be bitter like broccoli rabe, or mild like broccoli? I decided it didn’t matter — I’ve made the recipe with both, and it’s always tasty. So, why not try it with kale blossoms, instead of broccoli or broccoli rabe blossoms?

(It turns out the kale flowers are really very mild, by the way. Not at all bitter, like broccoli rabe can be).

Here’s how I adapted the recipe:

    • 1/2 pound pasta (I used a gluten-free macaroni, but you can use any type you want)
    • 1/2 pound kale flowers, stalks and leaflets
    • 1 tablespoon (or so) of butter
    • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
    • pinch (or more) of red pepper flakes
    • 2 cups chicken broth
    • pinch of salt, or to taste

Boil the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté until you can smell the garlic (about a minute, maybe less). Don’t let that garlic burn!

Then, add the cleaned, prepped, washed (and still wet) kale to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Sauté until the leaves are wilted, and the stems are fork tender. Add chicken broth (1-2 cups, depending on how “saucy” you want your pasta), and reduce heat to medium-low. Let the kale simmer for a few minutes, until the pasta is done.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the kale. Combine everything and allow it to cook together for a minute or so. Add a splash more of broth (or, reserved pasta water) if you want more liquid. Once everything is combined, serve it with fresh parmesan and more red pepper (to taste, of course).

Yum! Mild, with a nice hint of garlic and pepper (I will add more garlic and red pepper next time, by the way).

Also, I realize the traditional way to prepare broccoli rabe with pasta is to boil the two together. I’ve never done that. Instead, I always saute the broccoli rabe separately, and then combine it with the pasta at the end. So, that’s what I did here too (and will do again). If you prefer broccoli rabe and pasta cooked the traditional way, then just do that here with the kale. This recipe is a good basic broccoli rabe and pasta recipe: Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe and Garlic.

Kale Flowers, with Lemon and Butter

This is one of those recipes that’s almost too easy to actually call a recipe. And, tasty? Oh, yes! The mild kale florets work perfectly with the simple sauté of butter and lemon juice. And, a splash of white wine at the end brightens everything up. Yum!

    • 1/2 pound kale flowers, stalks and leaflets
    • 1 tablespoon (or so) of butter
    • juice from half a lemon
    • splash of white wine (I hear vermouth might work well too)

So simple. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and melt the butter (not oil, trust me). Once the butter is melted, give the cleaned and prepped kale (flowers, stems and leaflets) one last rinse. Then, add the whole lot (still wet) to the pan. The kale should be moist enough for the sauté, but don’t hesitate to add a splash of water or chicken broth if the pan starts to dry.

Sauté over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the leaves wilt and the stems are fork tender.

Add the lemon juice and a splash of wine (not too much — a tablespoon or two is probably perfect), sauté the kale for a moment longer, and then serve it while still hot.

That’s it! Very very simple, and extremely tasty. I’m going to try this same preparation (butter + lemon + wine) with other mild green veggies. It was that good!

Now that I know how tasty kale flowers are, I’ll definitely be growing more kale for their flower buds in the future. Kale is a biennial plant, which means it doesn’t bloom until its second year. Some kale is super-easy to overwinter. Other varieties are less hardy. If you want to grow your own kale for flower buds, look for the dark blue-green varieties, which tend to be more cold-hardy. My favorite is ‘Dinosaur’ kale (aka. ‘Lacinato’ kale), but other varieties might be equally hardy. And, I assume, their flower buds should be equally tasty.

There’s a bonus, too. Unless you’re gardening in an especially cold region, kale can generally survive the winter without any protection. And, it’s a good looking plant. So, there’s some winter interest for the edible garden. Nice! Especially nice if your garden — like mine — is a front yard affair.

Now that I know how tasty kale blossoms are, I’m wondering what other delicious surprises might be hiding in the garden. What other edible delights have I been composting rather than eating? Maybe you know. What surprising things have you harvested from your garden?

And, if you experiment with kale blossoms, please let us know how it goes!

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