cavolo nero

Med Diet Alert: Cavolo Nero, aka Lacinato Kale

Lacinato or Tuscan kale is what we call it in the U.S. where it’s relatively new for cooks and gardeners alike. But in Tuscany cavolo nero has long been a staple of farm gardens and traditional kitchens. It stands in the garden all winter, even in the coldest times, even when its stiffly rippled, dark blue-grey leaves stand in the snow.

Like many other members of the Brassica family it’s actually even more tasty after a frost. You can find it in the most ordinary supermarket produce sections these days. What I bought recently had been imported from a Mexican organic farm, and that’s a pity because it ought to be grown locally, especially in the Northeast where it isn’t at all difficult and requires minimum protection from the cold.

In Tuscany cavolo nero goes on top of toasted bread to make great crostini for a first course before (or with) a late-winter bean or chickpea soup. Or you can substitute regular kale or broccoli rape (rapini). Use as much or as little chili pepper as you wish. Combining steamed cavolo nero with garlic, a sprinkle of chili pepper, and olive oil gives you a nutrition-packed dish that is as good to eat as it is good for you, a perfect addition to the Mediterranean diet.

For six servings you’ll need:

  • 6 to 8 one-inch thick slices of rustic country-style bread
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to garnish
  • ½ to 1 dried hot chile pepper, broken in bits
  • 1 big bunch lacinato kale (aka Tuscan kale or cavolo nero)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lightly toast the bread slices and cut them in half. Cut one of the garlic cloves in half and use it to rub lightly over the surface of each toast. Then dribble a little of the olive oil over the top. Arrange on a platter and set in a warm oven while you prepare the kale. Chop the remaining garlic fine and set aside.

Pick over the greens, discarding any wilted bits, and strip away the tough stems. Chop the greens coarsely. After rinsing, put in a large saucepan over medium heat, adding a tablespoon or two of water to keep the greens from scorching. Cover the pan and steam for about 15 minutes, or until the leaves are thoroughly wilted.

Meanwhile, in a skillet that will hold all the wilted greens, over medium-low heat gently sweat the garlic and chile pepper in the rest of the oil—but don’t let the garlic brown. Using tongs, remove the greens from the saucepan and drop them right into the skillet, stirring to mix them well with oil. Add about ¼ cup of the cooking broth to the pan, raise the heat to medium and cook 5 to 7 minutes more, or just long enough to meld the flavors. Add salt and pepper.

Mound the cooked greens on top of the toasts and serve immediately, garnishing with a bit more olive oil. These are messier than most crostini and should be eaten with knife and fork.

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