For those of you who don't know this, Cavolo Nero (literally "Black Cabbage") is member of the Brassica family, a type of kale. In culinary terms you can treat it very similarly to curly kale, though it does need some special treatment in one respect - the removal from the leaves of the tough central vein, as this old photo from my archive shows:
In my garden I have six Cavolo Nero plants - but with a bit of clever photography it is possible to make it looks as if I have LOADS of it!
Cavolo Nero is also a very decorative plant, well deserving of a place in any flower border or potager, even if you never eat any of it.
Each plant with its cluster of long, thin, upright leaves is vaguely reminiscent of a plume of feathers.
As I mentioned, this year I have six Cavolo Nero plants in one of my raised beds, and one smaller one in a pot, as a reserve. This will provide the two of us with a plentiful supply of leaves over a period of about 3 months. I don't usually cut a whole plant all in one go. I usually pick individual leaves of just the right size, and then let the plant continue growing. A point to note here: don't remove the old leaves even if they are too tatty to eat. Leave them on the plant, because they will still contribute towards producing the energy required by the plant if it is to put on new growth. The leaves will turn yellow and fall off of their own accord when they are no longer viable.
The upper surfaces of the leaves are a wrinkled, "bubbly" sort of texture, described officially as "savoyed" since it resembles the texture of the Savoy Cabbage.
The young leaves are green, but turn a very dark grey-green when older, almost black in fact - hence the name.
When very tiny, the leaves are tender and juicy, and can be eaten raw as a salad ingredient, though I personally do not enjoy them like this. I find them too strongly-flavoured.
As this next photo demonstrates, even in the young leaves there is a very definite contrast between the soft leafy part, and the firmer central vein.
One of my favourite ways of eating Cavolo Nero is with soft polenta, which I have written about before. Here's my recipe:- Pork escalopes with soft polenta and Cavolo Nero
Another way of eating Cavolo Nero is to make it into kale crisps (chips). This is a recipe to which I was introduced by my daughter Fiona.
- Preheat the oven to 220 degrees
- Carefully wash about 10 leaves of cavolo nero or curly kale
- Cut out the thickest parts of the stems, chop the rest up into pieces about the size of potato crisps
- Thoroughly dry the pieces, using a salad spinner or paper towels
- Put the kale in a deep bowl
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil and some crunchy salt and pepper. Rub the oil in so it covers all surfaces
- Spread the kale out on baking sheets, minimising overlap between the pieces
- Bake for 5 minutes or so, but don't let them burn so check after 2-3 and turn over with tongs if they are starting to brown
- Serve immediately (with cold beer if desired!)