Being raised in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City during the '50s and '60s, I never ate kale. It wasn't that I didn't like it, I simply wasn't aware of its existence.
It was only after my family moved to North Truro on Cape Cod in 1969, after I'd graduated from high school, that I first ate kale. North Truro is more community than town with its neighbor being Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. At that time, Provincetown still had a vital commercial fishing fleet and most of the fishermen working the fishing boats were of Portuguese heritage.
Beyond a significant Portuguese community in the 1970s, the year-round population of Provincetown during this time was an ultra-colorful and fascinating mix of artists, writers, hipsters, a large population that identified as what is now known as LGBTQ and others living creatively on the fringes of society. There was very little friction among the groups. You'd find a fair representation of each group all partying and dancing together at Piggy's Dance Bar, a raucous roadhouse and disco just outside of town, where pretty much anything went and was particularly hilarious on Halloween. The head bartender's name was Leather. Enough said.
Provincetown was like no other place. In the summer, Commercial Street, the narrow street winding through the middle of town, was filled with swarms of tourists frequenting the many clothing, leather and craft shops, snacking on saltwater taffy, fudge, fried clams and foot-long hot dogs and generally gawking at the local color. Just off the center of town is Fisherman's Wharf, which at that time was vibrant with its many commercial and charter fishing boats. There were kids yelling in their Cape Cod accents, "Mistah! Throw a quatah ovah heah!" as they dove for change in the waters beneath the wharf.
Kale was a staple in the kitchens of the Provincetown Portuguese community, most famously as the base for Portuguese kale soup. Virtually every restaurant in the area had a variation on its menu, but none better than at Napi's Restaurant, owned by Napi and Helen Van Dereck. To the best of my knowledge, Napi's is the only restaurant still under the same ownership from the days Provincetown was my stomping grounds. Napi's is an outrageously eclectic restaurant, both in decor and menu. Because of its history and its reflection of the nature of the town, it is to my mind, Provincetown's quintessential restaurant. As far as I know, chef Helen still makes her soulful version of Portuguese kale soup and it's her recipe that inspired mine.
Portuguese kale soup
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium large onion, cut in 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (2 cups)
4 peeled medium carrots, cut in 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (2 cups)
4 celery stalks, cut in 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (2 cups)
3 large cloves garlic minced (3 tablespoons)
1 pound Gaspar's Portuguese Chourico peeled, cut in 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 pound Lacinato kale, large part of ribs removed, cut in bite-size pieces
2 medium large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (3 cups)
10 cups water
1 15.5-ounce can red kidney beans
Salt to taste
Over medium high heat saute onion, carrot and celery in olive oil for 5 to 6 minutes or until vegetables just begin to brown. Add garlic and Chourico and saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until a nice fond (brown bits on the bottom of the pan) begins to form. Add tomato paste and cook for about 1 minute longer. Add kale and saute for about 2 more minutes. Add 2 cups water and scrape fond from the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the water and the potatoes and bring back to a boil. Turn the soup down to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes longer or until the potatoes are tender. Add kidney beans and adjust salt to taste.