I’ve seen some cavolo nero (black cabbage) in the local farmers’ market the last couple of times I’ve been there and this morning I couldn’t resist buying a bunch. I’ve bought it before when the weather is colder and made ribollita, one of my favourite Tuscan soups, but the weather, although wet, was warm today and a warming soup wasn’t going to be the right thing on my menu. So, I decided to take the essence of the ribollita, the wonderful black cabbage with its gorgeous nutty flavour and add some tomatoes, garlic, onion and thyme and serve it as a side dish with some roast chicken. I had a lovely chicken from the farmers’ market too and went into rather pathetic mode and convinced my son to pop over and joint it for me as he’s so much better at it than me. Three portions were packed up for the freezer and one leg went into the oven to be simply roasted with olive oil, a dab of butter, seasoning and some Herbes de Provence sprinkled on top.
The cavolo nero required a little more effort – but not much! I decided to make a kind of sauce to finish off the cooking of the cabbage but I didn’t want the tomato to mush down too much. Therefore I blanched the cabbage leaves first – stripped from their thick stem – in some boiling salted water for a couple of minutes. I then drained and plunged them straight into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and retain the colour. While the cabbage is called ‘black cabbage’ it is in fact a very dark green.
Meanwhile, I had the sauce starting. I very finely chopped a good-sized shallot and put it in a pan with some olive oil to gently cook. I skinned 2 medium tomatoes and deseeded them and chopped the flesh into small pieces. Then I added the tomatoes, a crushed clove of garlic and a few sprigs of thyme to the shallots. I added a little warm chicken stock (or water would do) and a splash of dry vermouth (or white wine), seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then let the mixture bubble away for just a few minutes until the liquid started to thicken.
Then I sliced the leaves of the blanched cavolo nero and added that to the sauce and gave it all a good stir. I let it bubble away for another 3-5 minutes so the cabbage finished cooking but didn’t collapse into a soft mush and retained a bite and its colour. I served it alongside the roasted chicken portion.
It was a simple supper really but like all dishes where you have excellent ingredients and prepare them to bring out their natural good flavours, it was incredibly delicious. The cavolo nero has such a rich, sweet and slightly metallic taste that combines wonderfully with the garlic, olive oil, thyme and tomatoes. Really, I hardly needed the chicken! But that was nice too. I really love this cabbage. It’s become a bit fashionable, I know, but is still quite hard to come by. I’ve not seen it in a supermarket and rely on my farmers’ market to source it. It therefore seems extra special when it’s there because, unlike nearly every other vegetable I can think of, I can’t buy it anytime I fancy. So while it’s available, I’m going to make the most of it. I’m sure some ribollita will be on the menu soon, but I’m going to look out for some other ideas too.