07/09/2012 07:00 EDT | Updated 09/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Superfood kale featured in rustic crackers, pasta and savoury 'Brown Betty'

Nutrient-rich kale can be used as an ingredient in all kinds of dishes, from breakfasts and appetizers to salads, side dishes and entrees.

Sharon Hanna, author of "The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood," was dismayed that many people didn't know how to cook the superfood and her book gives readers an array of tips and ideas so that they can experience kale's health benefits.

Here are three recipes from her book.

Kale and Cranberry Crisps

Kale and cranberries come together beautifully in this rustic cracker, which is delicious with goat's cheese and grapes, Hanna says. If you don't have a food processor, just chop the ingredients, then combine by hand. The parchment paper, however, is essential.

This recipe is suitable for vegetarians.

Parchment paper

1 medium bunch (1 l/4 cups) Tuscan kale

5 ml (1 tsp) peanut or coconut oil

50 ml (1/4 cup) buttermilk

30 ml (2 tbsp) molasses

50 ml (1/4 cup) pecans

50 ml (1/4 cup) sunflower seeds or hulled pumpkin seeds

50 ml (1/4 cup) flax seeds

50 ml (1/4 cup) sesame seeds

50 ml (1/4 cup) poppy seeds

50 ml (1/4 cup) dried sweetened cranberries

1 small sprig rosemary, finely chopped

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

5 ml (1 tsp) baking soda

30 ml (2 tbsp) brown sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) flour

Heat oven to 220 C (425 F) and line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Toss kale leaves in oil and lay out in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until crisp but still bright green. Set aside to cool. Reduce oven heat to 120 C (250 F).

In a small saucepan, combine buttermilk and molasses. Whisk over low heat until well mixed and set aside to cool.

Combine dry ingredients and crispy kale in food processor and pulse a few times until pecans and larger nuts are finely chopped but still distinct. In two batches, combine wet ingredients into dry and pulse briefly, just until a dough forms.

Transfer dough to a large parchment-lined baking sheet, then top with a second sheet of parchment (feel free to reuse the parchment from the first step). With a rolling pin, roll out dough to a thickness of about 3 mm (1/8 inch).

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove top layer of parchment and turn off heat, leaving crisps in oven for 8 hours.

Cut or break crisps into pieces and store in an airtight tin or bag. These are especially delicious as part of a cheese course.

Makes about 2 dozen 5-cm (2-inch) crisps.


Kale and Goats With Bows

Any variety of kale is fine in this super easy pasta dish as everything is cooked in one pot, Hanna says. Feel free to use mature leaves as they'll be whirled with goat cheese to create a strikingly green pesto that melts into the hot pasta. If you have calendula in your garden, be sure to garnish the pasta with some edible orange petals — nasturtiums work too.

This is suitable for vegetarians and those on a gluten-free diet if non-gluten pasta is used.

6 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 or 3 small shallots, peeled

2 l (8 cups) kale leaves, packed

350 g (12 oz) dried farfalle (bowtie pasta)

250 g (8 oz) soft goat's cheese, plus extra for topping

45 ml (3 tbsp) pine nuts

Salt and black pepper, to taste

45 ml (3 tbsp) lemon juice

125 ml (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh thyme leaves (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add garlic and shallots and boil gently for 4 minutes. Add kale leaves and continue to boil for another minute. Watch the pot — you want the kale to remain bright green.

Using a slotted spoon, remove kale to a colander. Scoop out garlic and shallots and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Leave pot with water at a boil. Drop pasta into boiling water.

While pasta is cooking, squeeze excess moisture from kale. Add to food processor along with cheese, pine nuts, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Process while adding olive oil slowly, until mixture is creamy. Let pesto mixture stand until pasta is cooked to the desired texture.

Drain pasta well and combine with pureed mixture. Before serving, sprinkle with extra goat's cheese and fresh thyme leaves, if desired.

Makes 4 servings as a main course.


Green Elizabeth

What other people's mothers called apple crisp or cobbler, my mother called "Brown Betty." Apparently it dates back to colonial times and has the distinction of having been Nancy Reagan's most requested dessert when she lived at the White House.

This is most decidedly a savoury version of "Brown Betty"; a huge frying pan or skillet makes steaming the veggies easy, and panko adds the crunch. The sour cream or ricotta makes it richer, if you are in the mood. Gewurztraminer is wonderful with this, and would set off the Emmental or Gruyere nicely.

Of the name, Hanna said she played around with it. "Brown Betty turned into Betty and then it was Elizabeth, so it was Queen Elizabeth and then it was Green Elizabeth."

This is suitable for vegetarians.

150 ml (2/3 cup) panko crumbs

150 ml (2/3 cup) flour

Salt and black pepper, to taste

5 ml (1 tsp) sugar (helps brown the crust)

45 ml (3 tbsp) butter

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) grated Emmental or Gruyere, divided

500 g (1 lb) waxy potatoes, halved and thinly sliced

3 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced thinly

2 l (8 cups) kale leaves and tender stems, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

Pinch chili flakes

1 tart apple, peeled and chopped

250 ml (1 cup) sour cream, ricotta or mascarpone (optional)

In a bowl, combine panko, flour, salt, pepper and sugar. Cut in butter with pastry blender, fingers or knives to make the crumble topping. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the cheese. Set aside.

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F) with oven rack in the middle position.

In a very large skillet or wide-bottomed pot, steam potatoes in a little salted water for about 4 minutes. Strew leeks on top, then kale on top of leeks, then bell pepper, chili flakes and apple. Ensure there's enough water in the pan, then with the lid on, steam for 5 minutes or until veggies are wilted. Drain. (Reserve liquid for another use; can be frozen and used in soup.)

Pile veggies into a large buttered baking dish, smoothing the surface. Add sour cream, if desired. If you're using it to top the veggies, use the back of a spoon to smear and level. Strew remaining cheese on top. Cover with topping, patting lightly to cover the surface evenly.

Bake for about 25 minutes until Betty is bubbly and the top golden brown.

Serve with a big salad and crusty, dense bread.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Source: "The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood" by Sharon Hanna (Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd., 2012).