Culinaria: JP McMahon on clever kale

There are many different types of kale

Cavolo nero gives great taste and texture to many simple dishes

Cavolo nero gives great taste and texture to many simple dishes

 

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, February was the last month of the calendar year. Its name comes from the Latin for purification. I suppose it was a time when you would clean up your soul before the coming spring. But this was only in the Roman world.

Up north, nearer us, the Anglo-Saxon settlers of Great Britain referred to February as Kale-monath, or Cabbage-month.

There are many different types of kale. One of my favourites is cavolo nero (black kale). It’s slightly more delicate than common curly kale and it is prized for its unusual embossed texture.

Cavolo nero came out of Italian kitchens in the 18th century and is much lauded in Italian cuisine, especially in Tuscany, where it is simply called Tuscan kale.

Further away, cavolo nero was listed among the plants American president Thomas Jefferson recorded growing in his garden at Monticello, Virginia, in 1777.

The resurgence of cavolo nero in the modern world is often attributed to the famous London restaurant The River Café, run by chefs Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray. The brassica featured heavily in their first River Café Cookbook (1996).

Cavolo nero gives great taste and texture to many simple dishes. In the classic Tuscan soup, it is combined with white beans, bread and olive oil.

This is essentially a rustic dish that would have used up stale bread. If you have cooked white beans, and some old bread, it is very easy to put together quickly. Fry some onions and garlic in a pot and cover with vegetable stock. Add some chunks of old bread and some white beans and bring to the boil. Season to taste and blend. Blanch some cavolo nero briefly in boiling water and divide into a few bowls.

Ladle the soup over the kale and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

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