A post-Christmas return from England leaves me gasping for greens. Potato-ed out but curiously craving more starch than usually features in my predominantly Tuscan diet, my mind turns to a verdant cavolo nero soup savoured before the holidays. And it’s that taste I can’t erase from my flavour memory this rientro.
First things first, let’s deconstruct the name. Cavolo nero is not black. The vegetable boasts a beautiful dark green colour and long, lightly curling, loose leaves. Secondly, cavolo nero is a kale, not a cabbage. It belongs to the Brassica oleracea plant species, the same family as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, savoy and kohlrabi.
As winter hits and we start to flag, this vegetable boosts our bodies thanks to its astonishingly high nutritional value, a goldmine (or should that be greenmine?) of iron, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and folic acid.
Florentine catering firm Zazie, dans serves it with a generous drizzle of peppery extra-virgin olive oil and organic chips. Jamie Oliver studs his take on the Tuscan soup with cannellini beans. But in my version the humble spud is brought to the forefront. The energy-packed, potassium-laden tuber meets its match in the pleasantly tangy, bitter flavour of Tuscany’s star vegetable with its sweetish aftertaste.
Cavolo nero + potato soup (Serves 4)
Large bunch of cavolo nero
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 red chilli pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 litre vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Flax seeds to garnish
Strip the cavolo nero leaves from their central ribs. Cut the leaves coarsely and rinse well under cold running water.
In a large pan, sauté the onion, garlic and chilli in the extra-virgin olive oil and cook over a medium-low heat for 3 minutes. (Take care not to burn the garlic, or it will taste bitter.)
Add the potatoes and the stock and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the kale and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.
Remove the pan from the heat and use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add more hot stock if the soup is too dense for your liking. Season with a grating of black pepper and a drizzle of your finest olive oil (I’m a fan of Dievole’s 100% Italiano Monocultivar Coratina). Sprinkle with a few flax or chia seeds for that added healthy boost.
One glass of wine is always good for you, especially in the dark, dank winter months. Opt for a 100 per cent sulphate-free Sangiovese like Fattoria Lavacchio’s Puro Riserva. It’s one of those wines that brim with healthiness, soft, chewy and essentially grape juice with a dash of alcohol. Alternatively, plumb for a slightly oaked white such as Querceto di Castellina’s Livia. 50 per cent Viognier and 50 per cent Roussanne, this Francophone beauty born in Chianti Classico pairs perfectly with the tanginess of the kale.