You’ll see the tall stalks and long narrow leaves of cavolo nero in every little garden plot along the country roads of Tuscany. It’s an essential ingredient in the signature dish of the area, ribollita, the “reboiled” bean soup thickened with bread and drizzled with olive oil. But it’s a great on its own, too. I probably cook cavolo nero more than any other vegetable.
Cavolo nero, usually labeled lacinato or Tuscan kale (“lacinato” is misspelled Italian; it should be lacianato – la chia na to – Italian for lacy or frilly) comes in bunches of deeply ribbed, dark green leaves. Like other members of the Brassica family (cabbages, kales, cauliflower, broccoli, etc), it’s loaded with phytonutrients, compounds in plants that keep us healthy. (More about the good stuff in these cruciferous vegetables in my article at Culinate.)
While some recipes tout a short cooking time, I think the flavor is best when braised long and slow. Here’s how I cook cavolo nero:
Chop an onion; cook it for a few minutes in extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
Wash the cavolo nero leaves and leave then wet. You can cut out the center ribs if you like, but I rarely bother. Stack a half dozen or so of the leaves, roll them up lengthwise, and slice the roll into thin strips (aka chiffonade). Do this to the entire bunch, then add it to the onion. Pour in about a half cup of water.
Cook covered over low heat for at least 30 minutes (I think it’s even better if you cook it another 15 or so), stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add a little more water if the pan starts to dry out. Drizzle with a bit of your very best extra virgin olive oil at the table.
Slow cooked beans go really well with this.