Cavolo Nero aka Tuscan Black Cabbage

Cavolo Nero on The Chef's Garden @ Epicurean Supplies stall at the Hastings Farmers' Market

Cavolo nero on The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean Supplies stall at the Hastings Farmers’ Market

Translated the Italian name cavolo nero literally means black
cabbage. A favourite of Tuscan cooks, this very dark green vegetable has long plume-like leaves with a coarse central rib. On cooking the leaves become even darker, almost black in colour – which explains its name.

Cavolo nero (pronounced ca-voll-oh nee-ro) is a member of the kale family and as such – I am told by Clyde Potter of The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean Supplies, who grows it – it is high in vitamin K, it is also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and is a reasonable source of
calcium, as well as been considered to be an anti-inflammatory and to have potent levels of anti-cancer properties.

Cavolo nero is the perfect in season winter vegetable, so now is the time to be making the most of it. It is the ingredient that
distinguishes a traditional Italian Ribollita from an ordinary
minestrone soup and goes well with any number of hearty winter stews and braises.


Selection: Leaves should be crisp and unblemished with no holes.

Storage: Cavolo nero will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Preparation: Remove the tough centre stems, the easiest way to do this is to place the leaf, rough side up on a board, then run a sharp knife along each side of the centre stem.

To cook as a side dish, blanch in boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water, then chop or shred. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil with 1 crushed garlic clove in a frying pan over a
medium heat to infuse. Add blanched cavolo nero and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes to heat through.


Cavolo Nero & Potato Frittata: Make a tasty frittata of potatoes, bacon and cavolo nero. Serve with crusty ciabatta bread.

Warm Potato, Cavolo Nero & Egg Salad: Toss warm, shredded, blanched cavolo nero with warm sautéed bacon and cooked, diced potatoes. Make a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wholegrain mustard and runny honey. Divide salad between serving bowls; serve topped with a lightly poached egg.

Cavolo Nero Potato Cakes: Combine mashed potatoes with 1 finely diced, cooked onion, a little Parmesan cheese and finely shredded, blanched cavolo nero. Allow mixture to cool, then shape into cakes, roll in flour and shallow-fry for 4-5 minutes each side.

Tuscan Winter Pesto: Use this robust garlicky dark green winter pesto tossed through pasta, beans or vegetables, as a topping for bruschetta or as a flavour boost for vegetable soups. A herbaceous olive oil such as the locally produced Village Press Manzanillo is
ideal for this pesto. Wash 1 bunch (about 500g) cavolo nero in warm water. Remove tough centre stem and discard. Bring a large
saucepan of water to the boil, add 1 tbsp salt and cavolo nero and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.  Place cavolo nero with 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves and ½ cup
extra virgin olive oil in a food processor and process to make a paste. This pesto will keep in a covered container in then fridge for 3-5 days.

This recipe owes much to the wonderful Italian cook Faith Willinger and a recipe very similar to this can be found in her book Red, White & Greens – The Italian Way with Vegetables (Harper Collins 1996). A raw version can also be made, but you will need to increase the oil to about ¾ cup.

Happy cooking and eating.

Recipes by and information complied by Rachel Blackmore

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3 thoughts on “Cavolo Nero aka Tuscan Black Cabbage”

    1. We are lucky enough to several growers here in Hawke’s Bay who grow cavolo nero and kale so have a good supply especially Farmers’ Market shoppers.

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