Cavolo nero is known as black cabbage, dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale. It is an iron-rich member of the brassica family and a potent anti-cancer vegetable native to the Mediterranean coast. The climate there — which is sunny and salty but not necessarily warm — results in these vegetables having juicy, waxy leaves.
The whole cabbage family became a European staple owing to its tolerance of cold climates. Cavolo nero has stippled, plume-shaped leaves with thick stalks. It is a dark blue-green colour and gets its name (cavolo nero or black cabbage) because when it is cooked in the traditional Tuscan way, it turns almost black. Long cooking produces a shiny appearance with an almost melted silky texture and a pleasant, slightly bitter flavour.
Cavolo nero really is a superfood. It’s high in vitamin C and A, omega-3 for brain health and has more calcium than milk. Eating it with fats like olive oil and parmesan (luckily the flavours that go so well with it) make its fat-soluble carotenoids more available to the body. And the vitamin C from lemon juice helps make its iron more available as well.
Store cavolo nero for a couple of days in your fridge’s vegetable crisper with the stems wrapped in a moist paper towel. And don’t wash it until you plan to cook it, because it may go limp. Kale freezes well. Remove the ribs and cut the leaves into strips, then blanch them in salted boiling water. Drain and refresh in cold water and then drain again, squeezing out the remaining water. Freeze in a flatt-ish arrangement in snaplock bags. Use in soups or other dishes.
Read more in Ray McVinnie's feature, Know your cavolo nero, including how to cook it, buy it, and a few recipes to try.
Ways to enjoy it
- Instead of boiling it, try steaming or stir frying to keep the flavour and goodness in.
- Eat it raw in salads, slaws or juices. Finely shred it with other kales, mix with toasted almonds or legumes for texture.
- Serve with a lemony anchovy dressing for a great winter salad.
- Add to hearty winter soups and stews, or shred and toss through hot pasta dishes.
- Mix various kale and beetroot leaves, spritz with a little olive oil and bake in the oven at low heat for healthy chips.