Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cavolo Nero

We've been serving a lot of cavolo nero recently, mainly because it's the season and because, finally, a local grower is supplying it to us. Cavolo nero is Italian for black cabbage, but in English, it's often known as Tuscan black kale, lacinato kale, or less frequently dinosaur kale.

Although this green is hard to find, it is easy to recognize with its long narrow dark black-green leaves with the distinctive leathery appearance. It's only leathery in appearance: the leaves of cavolo nero are as tender as any kale and the stems are significantly more tender than standard curly kale. But the big payoff for this kale is the flavor: customers universally love it. It has a big, meaty flavor that makes it easily my favorite winter green.

To prepare cavolo nero, we slice it into thin ribbons from top of the leave to the bottom. We may discard a couple inches of the bottom if the stem gets a little tough. Our favorite way of cooking it is the simplest: we warm some extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a sauté pan. Then we blanch the kale ribbons in simmering water for 45 to 60 seconds, drain them, and add them to the oil and garlic. Onto the plate they go after a quick toss. For our recent wine dinner, we used half duck fat and half butter instead of olive oil for a wholly decadent treat.

I also like the way this kale stands up in soups. For me, it is the must-have green in ribollita or any white bean soup. And it's an excellent, but different, stand-in for tronchuda in caldo verde.

I can't tell you where to find cavolo nero, but if you ever spot some, take it home. I predict it will quickly become one of your favorite greens.

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