Marian Russo, who recently retired as director of student activities at St. Joseph’s College, lives in Dix Hills with her husband, Raymond.
What kind of food did you eat as a child?
My Austrian grandmother would make delicious stew. We had mashed potatoes or some kind of potatoes every time she cooked. I remember asking, “Are we going to eat soon?” and the answer was always, “We have to wait for the potatoes to cook.” She used to make a kale dish all the time. When I mentioned it once or twice to people I got a look, because back then no one knew what kale was. But recently, during the last several years, it’s gotten very popular. My grandmother must be laughing, because all of a sudden everything is kale.
What was the kale recipe?
It’s a memory from the past. The oats added to the mixture gave it a porridge-like consistency. I think the oats were from the old country. She served it as a side dish. It was always on our Thanksgiving table. It went very well with the turkey. The older you get, you reminisce about things. I wish I had spoken more to my grandparents, who all came from Europe, about their heritage. I’ve tried many times to duplicate her recipe. In this version, I used oats lightly, so it’s not as thick.
When did you start cooking?
I don’t think I stepped into the kitchen until I got married. And then it was all a learning process and sometimes pretty painful. My husband always told me he loved thick soup. One of the first things I ever made for him was pea soup. I knew they put noodles in, so I put a whole box of noodles into the soup. It was thick all right. We wound up with pea pie. My husband’s family are all phenomenal cooks. They used to ask me to bring the salad. But eventually I had to start to cook, because we couldn’t go to my mom’s or eat out every night. I collect cookbooks, food magazines, recipes. One of things I’m really good at is cooking breakfast. I’ve been told I make amazing scrambled eggs. When my children and grandchildren come to stay with us, breakfast is a big deal.
There are different kinds of kale available at the market.Do you have a favorite?
I’ve made this with baby kale, I’ve made it with kale leaves, and I’ve used fresh kale, where you have to strip the leaves from the stems yourself. You can use whatever is available. Just remove the stems. It’s much nicer when you just have the leaves.
REINVENTED KALE RECIPE FROM GRANDMOTHER’S ORIGINAL
You can reserve one of the bacon slices to use, crumbled, as a garnish for the dish.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 bunch kale, washed, stripped from stalks, leaves finely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup low-sodium canned beef broth
Mrs. Dash seasoning
Ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper
1. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the carrots, celery and shallot and sauté until softened. Set aside.
2. Place kale in a pan with cold water and cook until wilted. Drain and transfer to the frying pan.
3. Add the bacon, oats, broth, Mrs. Dash, salt, black pepper, and red pepper to taste. Stir together and gently simmer for several minutes until the oats have cooked. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.