Cavolo nero is curly kale’s tall, dark Italian cousin. Originally hailing from Tuscany this black kale, or black cabbage, as it is sometimes known, is packed full of vitamins and iron. Its robust texture and attractive leaves make it a popular choice with chefs looking for a slightly sweeter cabbage substitute.
It is now readily available from most large supermarkets, or you can get it from local farmers’ markets. When buying look for slender glossy leaves, free from blemishes.
Cavolo nero is incredibly versatile and can be boiled, stir-fried, steamed or massaged in dressing and eaten raw. The best way to prepare it is to remove the central stem and shred the leaves. As the core is generally quite tough, it’s best not to eat that.
To eat raw:
Thinly shred the leaves of the cavalo nero. Toss in a large bowl with a punchy creamy dressing and serve with tuna for a modern take on a classic Caesar salad. The buttermilk helps to tenderise the black kale and brings out its sweetness in this satisfying salad.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drop in the cavalo nero and cook for 3-4 mins until wilted and darker in colour. If you want the kale to retain even more bite, immediately plunge into ice-cold water to halt the cooking process. Try with lashings of butter and salted bacon for a heavenly indulgent side using our winter greens with bacon butter recipe.
Try cavalo nero slow cooked in a hearty Italian minestrone soup. It can also be added to sauces and makes a great partner to pasta and breadcrumbs, as with our Orecchiette with cavolo nero, anchovies & pangrattato recipe. The robust leaves stand up to stronger flavours such as anchovy and chilli that bring out its natural sweetness.
Heat a splash of oil in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat, add the shredded cavolo nero and any aromatics, such as garlic, chilli and ginger. Cook for 3-4 mins until visibly wilted but still crunchy. Cooked this way cavalo nero makes a great substitute for kale in a healthy stir-fry.
See our vegetarian stir-fry recipes for more inspiration.
Keen for more cabbage? Check out these collections and guides:
What other cavolo nero recipes do you like to make? Let us know in the comments below…