Cooking with Cavolo Nero

Cavolonero

Remember when Mario Batali's Otto opened to oh so much fanfare, but the pizza was just so-so? The saving grace was the antipasti -- salumi, Italian cheeses, and small dishes of braised and lightly dressed vegetables -- and the much-praised (and imitated) olive oil gelato. I never had pizza again at Otto, but when I returned for the second time, things had improved. Pastas were now on the menu: For under $10, there was a selection of classics, like spaghetti carbonara, along with seasonally-inspired improvisations.

One pasta I really liked was a simple combination of linguine, cabbage, garlic, and speck (the smoked cousin of prosciutto).

I was thinking about it when I came across some Cavolo Nero for the first time and decided to try making a winter version (I believe the original dish may have been made with napa cabbage). I never cooked with Cavolo Nero (also known as Lacinato Kale, Tuscan Kale, and Black Kale) before, so I searched online for how to properly prepare the winter greens. Many of the recipes I found called for boiling or braising it for as long as 20 minutes and upward. This seems really strange, since the leaves are thin and tender, not tough. When I cooked the kale myself, it took no longer than five to eight minutes before it was cooked, but not falling apart.

I started by taking two bunches of Cavolo Nero, removing the stalks, and slicing the leaves into ribbons. After heating a saute pan over medium-high heat, I added two sliced cloves of garlic and cooked them until lightly browned. To the pan, I added the sliced kale, salt, and pepper. After cooking and tossing for about a minute, I added a cup of water, turned the heat down and covered the pan, essentially steaming the kale, adding water as needed for the next five minutes if the pan became dry. By the way, all of this can be done while the pasta is cooking. When the kale is tender (and the pasta is nearly cooked), add the linguine to the pan and toss with small slivers of speck (La Quercia's "Speck Americano"), adding pasta water if necessary to continue cooking the pasta. Lastly, toss the pasta with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pastacavolonero

I loved the kale's texture and slightly sweet flavor. It would make a great side dish alone, torn from the stalks and sauteed with garlic and olive oil (or even better, pancetta!), or tossed with orecchiette and sausage as an alternative to the usual broccoli rabe. Do you have ideas for cooking with Cavolo Nero? If so, leave them in the comments.


 





Comments

Raw in chiffonade with good olive oil, a squirt of lemon, black olives, and ricotta salata.

 

Love the stuff. It's easily found at L.A. area farmers' markets. I posted about cooking cavolo nero in walnut oil here: http://www.ritzbites.com/blog/2007/04/new_ingredient_.html

 

Cavolo Nero, the beloved winter green once seen only in Tuscany but now popular throughout much of central and northern Italy (it is freeze-hardy, to a point), is wonderfully satisfying in a bean-based, well cooked, heartily vegetable-stocked "ribollita" but very best in that traditional Tuscan antipasto of "bruschetta con cavolo nero". A substantive peasant bread with strong crust is grilled till just brown (under the broiler is fine, though over wood is better), rubbed with a half garlic clove and a new season olive oil is poured on, liberally -- then apply steamed cavolo nero that you have sliced into strips. Add a bit of salt. A wonderfully satisfying beginning to a meal !

 

makes a fantastic pesto, too. blanch in boiling water with several cloves of garlic, puree in blender or food processor, slowly adding olive oil. season with salt and pepper, serve with fresh parmigiano-reg. see the 2nd river cafe cookbook. also, as the first commenter mentioned, chiffonaded for a raw salad, served with a lemon-garlic-olive oil dressing, loads of grated pecorino, and toasted breadcrumbs. that's my favorite way to eat it.

 

My favorite green vegetable!
We prepare it many ways, but I will often use it in a broth soup with white beans if escarole is not at the market.

The other way my husband loves it is steamed and then dressed with soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and red pepper. An excellent easy, healthy side.

 

I just started cooking with it a few weeks ago when I saw some organic Tuscan kale on sale a couple weeks ago at my grocery store. I never knew that black kale and Tuscan kale were the same thing until this post, though I've seen recipes using both names, including the pesto and bruschetta mentioned here. Last night I made some Tuscan kale by first sauteing some fennel, onion, yellow pepper, and garlic with red pepper flakes. Then I added the greens, which I'd cut up before rinsing. The water clinging to the leaves was enough liquid to simmer/steam the greens. I finished with a small can of tomatoes, blasted the heat to evaporate most of the liquid and combined all with cooked penne. Quick, easy, and tasty if I do say so myself.

 

Ribollita of course but it also is terrific braised/steamed with a good deal of garlic and mixed with mashed white beans (cannellini or cranberries),some olive oil, and spread on crostini. I think I got this idea from Marco Canora.

I don't love it raw.

 

Oh yum! Had it first in Tuscany, then waited for it to travel to Texas. Add strips of it to a vegetable compot I've made for years, layering veggies according to cooking time--never disturbing the layers--top with crumbled chicken livers, and slivers of parmegiano regg. Do think it's somewhat abuse, though-it loves OO, zest, and sun-dried tomatoes...etc.

 

Raw in a salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and then tossed with toasted pine nuts and coursely grated pecorino romano or parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Tastes great the next day too! We can't get enough of this wonderful, healthy salad but I am going to try the very first posting too.

 

I added it to cheese strata this week with excellent results. Recipe here: http://terrelltravels.com/breadtherapy/2010/09/16/meeting-my-goals/

 

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