Growing up, our car was king.

Every summer, my parents would toss me, my brother and a collection of suitcases and ice chests into our Chevy Impala and take off for parts unknown.

We visited the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Toured Dallas and Houston. Swam off the coast of Pensacola and strolled the gardens of Bellingrath in Mobile.

Those three-week treks made for some awesome memories. But my favorite car trips were a little shorter: I loved it when we traveled a few hours south to my dad’s hometown of Carthage, MO.

Dad had extended family in Carthage. We stayed with his aunt, who lived on a farm. Her kids and grandkids always came by, giving my brother and me a passel of second and third cousins to run wild with. We’d pick strawberries, play in the barn and stomp on the ticks we pulled off my great-aunt’s old dog. (“Who can make the tick blood spurt the farthest?”) We’d end our days with huge dinners of barbecued meat and homemade rolls and Jell-O salads.

And greens. Cooked for hours with hamhocks or bacon, Aunt Lola’s greens practically melted on the trip from pot to plate. Spiked with vinegar, they seemed the essence of Carthage dinners.

I thought about those greens the other day. Our spinach has bolted; our chard is wilting (and sporting some really unattractive brown spots). Unseasonably warm weather in the mid-Atlantic has wreaked havoc on our garden’s cold-weather greens.

But the kale is unscathed. It stands at pert attention, ripe for picking and however I want to treat it for dinner.

Usually, I slice it into slivers and add it to a salad. Or barely saute it in a little bit of nut oil.

But it’s a sturdy little plant (there’s a reason it’s called “dinosaur” kale). Surely, I thought, it can withstand the heat, a la my Aunt Lola’s greens?

For inspiration, I turned to Suzanne Goin and her “A.O.C. Cookbook.” Goin sings the praises of heat’s seductive effect on kale and highlights the technique in her recipe for Long-Cooked Cavolo Nero (another name for the lacinato — aka dinosaur — kale we’ve planted).

She’s right. Simmered in a bath of chile-spiked olive oil for 30 or so minutes, my kale emerges velveteen soft and deeply flavorful. It’s perfect with our barbecued chicken tonight; it’ll be lovely spread atop downy rolls tomorrow.

All I need now is a Jell-O salad to bring back a piece of my childhood.

I think Aunt Lola would approve.

kale cooking

Long-Cooked Cavolo Nero (“The A.O.C. Cookbook”)

I usually tinker and fuss with written recipes, but I followed this one pretty much by the letter. Definitely use lacinato kale; definitely blanch it; definitely stir it to avoid burning. You’ll be thrilled with the results.

  • 1 big bowlful of cavolo nero (Also known as lacinato kale or dinosaur kale. If you’re buying this from the store, grab a couple of big bunches.)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 chile de Arbol
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1 clove minced garlic

Remove the center stems from your kale, then rinse the leaves well. Spin dry.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it well, then add your kale. Blanch for 2 minutes.

Drain the kale and let it cool slightly, then wring as much water out of it as you can. Set it aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the rosemary sprig and crumble the chile de Arbol into the oil. Let them sizzle for 30-40 seconds.

Add the sliced onion and turn the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper, then cook the onion for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn.

kale dishAdd the kale and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir to make sure the kale is completely coated with oil. Season with a little more salt and pepper, then cook slowly, over low heat, for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Remove the rosemary sprig and any big pieces of chile, then turn the kale out onto a serving platter. Eat immediately.