Maui Food and Dining

Chef Simpliciano Demonstrates Kale Risotto

May 1, 2012, 12:01 PM HST
* Updated May 4, 12:13 AM
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By Susan Halas

showing the leaf

Chef Simpliciano shows a leaf of kale before blanching. Susan Halas photo.

Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around. The large leafy green is a member of the cabbage family and is highly regarded as a source of antioxidants and fiber.

For all its nutritional benefits, kale has only recently become a foodie favorite. In its latest incarnation as a trendy veggie, an increasing number of chefs are adding it to their repertoire.

This was the case on April 30 when Chef James Simpliciano of the Westin Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali demonstrated tasty and pretty ways to incorporate kale into a traditional risotto.

Risotto – a creamy rice dish most often associated with Italian and other Mediterranean cuisine – got a nice update. Simpliciano’s version included risotto as the base, to which he added kale as a pesto, as an oil and as a garnish.


The chef’s risotto recipe called for traditional short-grained Aborino rice and lots of hot chicken broth. The quantity may vary depending on the number of servings, but the proportions remain constant – about a half cup of rice to about two cups of broth and lots of stirring.

on the stove

Chef Simpliciano demonstrates making risotto as Roberta Scaglione of Kihei looks on. Susan Halas photo.


Though pesto is traditionally made from a basil base, Simpliciano explained that it could also be made from kale by nearly the same process. Unlike basil however, it was necessary to first remove the heavy veins from the leaves, then blanch them by briefly immersing in boiling water to soften, and rapidly bath the leaves in icy water to stop the cooking and preserve the bright color.

The moisture is then removed and the blanched leaves made into pesto using oil, nuts and other creative ingredients to make a bright green sauce with a nice tang.

He went on to show how to incorporate the sauce into the risotto. The addition of  kale turned the usually white dish a lovely vivid green.


Simpliciano encouraged the audience to experiment with spices and condiments. He selected a few grinds of nutmeg to counteract a slight bitterness in the kale, then added a nice dollop of chopped pickled Maui onions and some grated cheese. He later garnished the dish with small flavorful picked local beets for a touch of color and a nice contrast in flavor. At the very end he added a handful of fresh kale, very finely sliced, to the mixture.

While he was showing how to use the kale, he heated up a batch of risotto he had made earlier using  a similar recipe, but this one augmented with fresh kernels of bright yellow Kula corn.

finished dish

The finished dish has two kinds of rissoto, kale as pesto, garnish and oil, onion, cheese and beets. Susan Halas photo.

When it came time to plate the dish, he laid down a base of pureed Maui onions, put a scoop of each kind of risotto on it side-by-side, and dressed the edges with a bright green kale-infused oil. He garnished the finished offering with slices of the small beets in a variety of colors, a small dollop of goat cheese and added a Kale chip for accent.

Members of the audience pronounced the final product ‘delicious’ and all the samples rapidly disappeared.

The demonstration was part of the Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Grown on Maui” series which takes place on the last Monday of each month at Whole Foods Market. Each event showcases a different chef working with a different locally-grown product. The demonstrations are free and open to the public.

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