Hail nero: Skye Gyngell praises the versatility and nutritional benefits of cavolo nero

Sunday 23 October 2011 03:08

It's the time of year to start using the lovely, fibrous winter greens that make their appearance in the first few weeks of autumn. Cavolo nero, or black cabbage, is a member of the family known as brassicas. Its richly inky-green leaves and sturdy stalks are delicious just as they are, or puréed and folded through pasta or with a purée of potatoes, or a little champ. Puréed cavolo nero is wonderful by itself on bruschetta rubbed generously with garlic and a generous splash of the fruitiest olive oil you can find; it's also classically included in the Tuscan soup ribollita.

It's a very versatile vegetable, and best of all, it's very, very good for you!

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Borlotti with cavolo nero, grilled monkfish and aioli

Serves 4

800g/27oz monkfish

For the aioli

The yolks of 3 free-range eggs
Juice of one lemon
250ml/8fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the borlotti

200g/7oz dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight and drained
A head of garlic
A few parsley stalks
1 dried chilli
1 carrot, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of sage
2-3 celery stalks
12 small San Marzano tomatoes
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

For the cavolo nero

1kg/2lb cavolo nero, washed, leaves only
2 cloves of garlic
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the aioli. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with a pinch of salt, add the lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk while adding the oil slowly, drop by drop to begin with. Once the mixture begins to thicken, add the remaining oil in a slow, steady stream. When all the oil has been added, add the crushed garlic, season and set aside.

For the borlotti beans, heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Drain the beans from the soaking water, place them in a baking tray and cover with water. Add the garlic, parsley, chilli, carrot, sage, celery and tomatoes. Pour over the olive oil and cover tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook until the beans are soft – about an hour.

To cook the cavolo nero, bring a saucepan of well-salted water to the boil, add the leaves and cook for five to six minutes. Drain and dress with the garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper while still hot.

Set the grill to high. Cut the monkfish into portions, brush with oil and season. Grill for four minutes on one side and turn and grill for a further three minutes.

Warm the borlotti and cavolo nero in a pan. Spoon into bowls, arrange the fish on top and finish with the aioli.

Jerusalem artichokes, cavolo nero and robiola

This is the perfect dish to sustain you if you don't wish to eat meat. It uses vegetables in season right now, so it is distinctly wintry in flavour. Robiola is a soft, creamy mountain cheese from Piedmont, but you can use ricotta or mozzarella, which are less intense but nonetheless still good here.

Serves 6

1kg/2lb Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and cut in half lengthwise
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of cavolo nero, washed, leaves only
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
250g/8oz robiola

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Place the sliced artichokes into a baking tray. Pour over the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Place on the middle shelf of the oven and roast for 40 minutes (when done, the artichokes should be golden-brown and tender to the touch).

While they are cooking, place a large pot of water on to boil, and add a generous pinch of salt. When the water is boiling vigorously, plunge in the cavolo and cook for three to four minutes; it should be tender to the bite. Drain and toss with the olive oil.

Season with plenty of freshly ground pepper and a little more salt. In a bowl, toss the artichokes and cavolo together and place in an ovenproof dish. Slice the cheese and lay on top of the vegetables.

Return to the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and is oozing over the vegetables. Remove from the oven and serve piping hot ona slice of freshly toasted rustic bread.

Cavolo nero with farro and grilled lamb

Farro is a grain, like rice, that absorbs flavour right to its core. This combination of cavolo nero and farro works well with so many things, including roasted pigeon, guinea fowl and slow-cooked pork.

Serves 4

300g/10oz farro
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
100g/31/2oz Parmesan, grated
1tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 boned leg of English lamb

For the cavolo nero

1kg/2lb cavolo nero, washed, leaves only
1 tin anchovies
50g/2oz unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Start by rinsing the farro well in cold running water until the water runs clear, just as you would with rice. Place in a heavy-based pan, and cover with cold water, season with a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer until the farro is tender and nutty. This will take 20 to 25 minutes. Keep tasting until it seems right. Drain and dress while warm with half the olive oil, the Parmesan, vinegar and a little salt and pepper.

For the cavolo, strip the leaves from the core, place a large pot of salted water on to boil and, when it is boiling, add the cavolo and cook for three minutes. Drain and dress while hot with the rest of the oil.

Now take half of the cavolo and place it in a food processor with the anchovies, butter, garlic and black pepper. Purée until smooth. Taste and add salt as necessary – the anchovies will add a delicious saltiness, so it may need nothing at all. Remove from the food processor and toss with the whole cavolo leaves and the farro. Place in a pan to warm through while you cook the lamb.

Trim the lamb of most of its fat and, using a sharp knife, cut into eight pieces. Season well with sea salt and black pepper. Turn on the grill and, when it is hot, cook the meat without turning for four minutes. Turn, and cook on the other side for a further three minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes in a warm place.

Heat through the cavolo and farro until piping hot. Cut the meat into generous- sized slices, and serve on top.

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