What Is Cavolo Nero And What To Do With It
“‘I’m starting with a ribollita, which is an Italian soup, a Tuscan soup,’ Rogers says. ‘We only really make it in the autumn when there’s cavolo nero. Do you know what cavolo nero is?’ I do indeed. ‘It’s a cabbagey green that you’re really only supposed to pick after the first frost, and it coincides with the arrival of the new oil . . .'”Jo Ellison interviewing Ruth Rogers, Lunch With The FT, February 2021
Kale v cavolo nero
In Italian cavolo nero means ‘black cabbage’. It’s a member of the brassica family of vegetables, along with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale. Unlike a cabbage it doesn’t form a head, but grows more like a collection of palm branches – very like kale in fact. However, whereas kale ranks alongside swedes and marrows in terms of appeal (in spite – or maybe because of – endorsements by Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé Knowles), cavolo nero, can be really delicious.
Now grown in Lincolnshire
It has greenish black leaves which can be up to a yard long, and a bobbly-bubbly sort of texture and it’s traditionally grown in Tuscany (in between the cabbages of the north and the cauliflowers and broccolis of the south). Anyone who is learning Italian will know that some things simply don’t translate…if an Englishman was to announce “they are now growing cavolo nero successfully in Lincolnshire!”, a genuine, surprised response of “Cabbage!” could not, somehow, be taken very seriously… but when an Italian breathes ‘Cavolo!’ with wonder and amazement it sounds wholly plausible.
But it really is true – Lincolnshire is the new Po valley. Just as some of the best champagne grapes are now grown in England…. cavolo nero is now successfully being grown in Lincolnshire. Buy it after frosts have set in – it’s sweeter then.
How to prepare it
Take the thick ribs out by bending the leaf until the leaf comes away and the rib remains sticking out, then just keep pulling to separate the two. Once you have a pile of ribless leaves, shred them with a sharp knife.
How to cook it
If you are serving it as an accompaniment you can simply put the shredded leaves directly into a wok and cook it in its own liquid (like spinach) for about 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. Drain and squeeze off the liquid. Then add some olive oil, or butter, and crushed garlic and fry for a couple of minutes.
It freezes well – blanch it for a couple of minutes in boiling salted water, drain, squeeze out the water, and freeze in bags. It keeps for days in the fridge, but the longer it’s left the bitterer it becomes.
How much do you need?
For four people you need about 1 kg (2 lbs) of cavolo nero.
How to use cavolo nero
It’s excellent in soups (in particular the classic Tuscan soup ribollita which also involves cannellini beans, tomatoes and bread); and also stews, pastas and even added to salads.
Ottolenghi (in Simple) serves his with chorizo, preserved lemon, garlic, paprika, lemon juice and soured cream.
Nigella Lawson says cavolo nero with anchovies (or you could add some Gentleman’s Relish diluted in melted butter) would form part of her final meal.
For a recipe for pasta with cavolo nero and chorizo, follow this link.
For a Brazilian-style garlicky, shredded cavolo nero, follow this link.
You could also use it to make crisps…follow this link for how to do that.
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To explore other specialist fruits and vegetables