Cavolo (cabbage) nero (black) comes with a sleuth of names and nicknames: Tuscan kale, Italian kale, Tuscan cabbage, dinosaur kale, etc. Akin to kale and quinoa, cavolo nero has been at the forefront of the culinary movement. It’s already ubiquitous on menus all over the country and, as I see it, it’s not a fad… it’s here to stay. It’s presence on market shelves is due not only to its highly nutritional character but to a not so well kept secret: it’s cheap and easy to grow.
About twenty years ago, when I first saw the cavolo nero on the Farmers Market tables in Santa Monica I couldn’t believe my eyes, suddenly my brain started racing, a door opened to many new cooking opportunities, as I was very familiar to the versatility of this great vegetable. I thought about finally enhancing a minestrone; slowly braising the kale with meat; the most tender leaves gently mixed in a salad; topping a crunchy bruschetta and (roll of the drums..) I could finally make a Ribollita, probably the most Florentine dish you can indulge upon, well, maybe after the bistecca alla Fiorentina ( you should actually eat the ribollita first and the bistecca as a main course…)
I started to bring it along in my kitchen at Locanda Veneta in the early 90’s where I regularly started intriguing customers palate with Ribollita and other delicacies; I also tried to experiment with it using new techniques, like roasting it to a crisp in the oven. Not to pat myself in the back but I think I was instrumental in putting cavolo nero on the map in L.A., I’ve done many great cooking classes based on Tuscan kale where people were drawn just by my demystification of this then unknown leafy cabbage.
Cavolo nero is somewhat common throughout Italy but mostly used in the North and revered in my native Tuscany. While my region dearly holds the adoption papers and copyright of this curly kale, records shows that it was also cataloged in Thomas Jefferson Monticello’s garden in the seventeenth century.
Iron, calcium, vitamins (K &C), and folic acid, all these great things are packed in this dark, coarse and bitter leafy vegetable. Hence, cavolo nero is considered a proud member of the elite clan of super foods.
Here is why growers love this super-vegetable: it can be cultivated in the winter, where it’s immune to light frost, and summer months as long as temperature doesn’t rise over 80°. It requires almost no care and very little water and if you add the powerful nutritional benefit of this leafy green you can easily figure out why cavolo nero will have a stable presence on our menus for years to come.