A delicious and nutritious vegetarian Italian winter warmer!
One of the joys of shopping at the green grocer or vegetable markets rather than supermarkets is that one is so much more aware of which vegetables are in season. Buying fresh, locally grown produce at the right time of year is healthier for us and reduces the carbon footprint created by flying our food half way across the world to reach us!
One of my January favourites here in Rome, Italy is black cabbage or cavolo nero as it's called in Italian. It's actually a staple of many Tuscan winter dishes and is sometimes known as Tuscan Kale, but it is also found readily here in Rome. Whilst it is probably most commonly used in hearty winter minestrone soups, and is also perfect cooked simply as a side dish with nothing but a little olive oil dribbled over the top, I love it as an ingredient in a pasta sauce...Read on for more details!
- 400 g whole wheat penne pasta (choose tubular pasta - NOT spaghetti)
- 1 bunch of black cabbage
- 1 400 g tin of peeled plum tomatoes
- 1 red onion
- 2 handfuls of Italian flat-leafed parsley (fresh or frozen)
- Several tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ glass red wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh red chilli pepper - amount depends on personal preference and heat of chilli!
- Put the pasta water on to boil in a large saucepan. To speed up the process, do not add salt until just before the water starts to boil.
- Put the black cabbage leaves to soak in a sink full of water to clean them. Use a little baking soda in the water if the leaves are particularly muddy - just remember to rinse them again in fresh water if you do.
- Meanwhile, peel the onion, chop roughly and put in a blender - I use a hand blender - together with the parsley, and a little olive oil. Blend the onion and parsley until it becomes a green paste - add a little extra oil to give it a liquid consistency.
- Add the parsley / onion mix to a large, non-stick frying pan and cover. Sauté for approx. 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Whilst the onions are cooking remove the now thoroughly clean black cabbage leaves from the water and strip them from their stalks. Tear the larger leaves into smaller pieces.
- Now it's time to add the can of peeled plum tomatoes to the onions. I usually squash them directly in the pan with a nylon headed potato masher so they cook quicker, before mixing the sauce. Cover and leave the sauce to simmer whilst you prepare the next stage. I also usually add a couple of pieces of red hot chilli pepper now.
- The great thing about the next stage of this recipe is that the pasta and the greens can be cooked together in the same pan! Double check that the pasta water is boiling, add salt if you haven't already, and start by adding the black cabbage. I usually give my cabbage 3-4 minutes' head start before then adding the pasta to the same pot. This will vary depending on the cooking time of the pasta you choose.
- Time to check on the sauce! Remove the lid at this point, add a splash of red wine and turn up the heat to boil off the wine and reduce the sauce a little. Keep the sauce simmering gently until the pasta and cabbage are ready.
- Drain the pasta and black cabbage thoroughly and add to the frying pan with the sauce. If your frying pan is large enough toss the pasta mixture in the pan - if not, transfer all the ingredients back into the large pasta saucepan and mix there instead as it's important that the sauce covers the pasta completely!
- Heat the pasta and sauce for one minute - and serve!
The large dark blue-green leaves of black cabbage are easily stripped from their stalks using the thumb and index finger when the leaves are fresh.
Grow your own Tuscan Kale!
Plant it in early spring and again in late summer for fall harvests - the ultimate zero-mile food grown in your own backyard!