Cavolo Nero sounds so much better than Kale, don’t you think? It rolls off the tongue, has romantic connections with Tuscany, where it has been grown forever by the contadini, and it isn’t as trendy as Common Curly Kale with its Commercial Connotations.
Cavolo Nero, Lacinato, Tuscan Kale, Tuscan Black cabbage, is the Principe d’inverno, the prince of winter. In winter it is the star of the vegetable garden: indeed it requires frost to reach its peak of princeliness. In summer, the leaves tend to toughen in the hot sun and even worse, it becomes prone to attack from white cabbage moths. In winter, it grows like a triffid, reaching for the sky, its only enemy being the white cockatoo, the Australian gangster parrot. They are easy to grow. If you don’t have a vegetable patch, consider growing a plant or two in your flower garden to provide height, leafy contrast and architectural drama as well as a source of nutritious green.
My favourite pasta dish is based on Cavolo Nero. It is a five minute wonder dish, requiring only a few pantry staples along with some freshly picked young cavolo nero leaves.
Fettucine con Cavolo Nero ed Amici.
Recipe for two people
- 180g Egg Fettucine nests
- 100 g freshly picked young cavolo nero leaves
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 2 garlic cloves
- a pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- a knob of butter
- grana padano parmigiana
- Prep the ingredients as this is a speedy dish. Strip the leaves from the centre stalk of the cavolo nero. If large, chop them roughly. If small and delicate, leave them whole or tear them. Finely chop the garlic. Roughly chop the anchovies. Grate the cheese.
- Cook the pasta in ample salted water until al dente, as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan then add generous slug of oil. The oil makes up part of the sauce so don’t be parsimonious here. Add the anchovies, stir to melt them, then add the garlic and chilli, stir about briefly, then add the leaves and toss about.
- When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out around half a cup of cooking water. Drain the pasta. No need to drain it thoroughly; the starchy water adds to the sauce.
- Add pasta to the pan, along with a little cooking water ( it will disappear into the sauce). Raise the heat to very high, stir about, then add the knob of butter* and a few grindings of pepper.
- Have a hot serving bowl ready, tip the contents into the bowl and serve. Also heat your pasta bowls. Pasta cools too quickly on cold plates.
* About the knob of butter. I once ate a fabulous pasta dish at the famous Melbourne restaurant, Pelligrino’s. As the place was packed, I was seated on a stool out the back alongside the chef’s stove. The Italian Nonna tossed the pasta around with its sauce in a small aluminium pan at high heat, then added a knob of butter before re-tossing briefly. This old trick works so well with many wintery pasta dishes.