Around here, spring tends to come in dribs and drabs--a splash of sunshine here, a smattering of blooms there. It takes a while for the season to gather momentum, to really come into its own. In some ways, these first few weeks are the ones I like best. The first shoots out of the ground, the first lacy blossoms on the trees--spotting these on walks around the neighbourhood makes me want to skip to the end of the block. Spring! It's here! It's here! There's something so good about the newness of it all.
But like I said, the season's momentum is slow to gather. Like right now, it feels just about like spring. It's warm enough to throw open all the windows, and when passing through the yard, it's hard not to crush a few violets underfoot. They've got it carpeted. But most of the farmers' markets in town have yet to open, and even when they do in the coming days, it might be a while before there's much more filling the stands than asparagus and pea shoots (which is not to say that I have anything against either). So, yes, I'm being impatient. But after months and months of brassicas--roasted, braised, and pan-fried--how can you not be? There comes a point in the year, however short-lived, when it's hard to even look at another cabbage.
But, in these in-between days, cabbage is what you can count on. So here is something to help you wait out the days--Nigel Slater's chicken broth with pork and kale. Now, I can't go so far as to say that it tastes like spring--that would just be a bit of a stretch--but it doesn't quite recall the depths of winter either. An in-between kind of dish. For, though that ruffled kale afloat in broth has an unmistakable wintriness to it, the meatballs do not. These are rolled together with generous handfuls each of parsley, mint, and scallion, as well as a bit of fresh chile for kick, then seared golden in a hot pan and finished in the broth. The effect is something bright and fresh, something powerfully enlivening--enough to slough off the last of winter's drabness and make you forget (at least for a little while) that you are waiting.
Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender
Note: As Slater says, you can substitute the kale leaves for savoy cabbage, and I get the feeling that I might have preferred it that way. I also bulked up the leftovers the next day with some cubes of boiled potato, which rounded things out rather nicely.
400 g / 14 oz ground pork
2 small, hot chiles
2 garlic cloves
6 bushy sprigs of parsley
6 bushy sprigs of mint
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
A little vegetable oil
1 liter / 4 cups chicken stock
125 g / 4 1/2 oz kale leaves (from about half a bunch)
Remove any tough stalks from the kale leaves and tear into rough pieces. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the kale for a minute or two, then drain and set aside. Give the pot a quick rinse.
Put the pork in a mixing bowl. Finely chop the chiles and add them with their seeds to the pork. Slice the scallions, discarding the roots and the very darkest tips of the leaves. Peel and mince the garlic, and add with the scallions to the pork. Pull the parsley and mint leaves from their stems and chop coarsely, then add them to the pork with the salt. Mix everything thoroughly with your hands and form into about sixteen balls, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.
Warm a thin slick of oil in a cast-iron pan and cook the pork balls, in batches if needed, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the same pot the kale cooked in, bring the stock to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Lower in the pork balls and then decrease the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until they are cooked through. Add the kale to the soup and serve immediately.