Monday, November 28, 2011
Lately, when we eat at home, I end up cooking meals that are mostly vegetable. It’s not that we don’t eat meat. We do eat meat. And even perhaps too much meat. Between working on Eat Rome and Eat Florence, traveling, participating in a hamburger contest and just our normal social schedule, I find that we’ve been eating in restaurants more than usual. And meat always seems to make a scheduled appearance.
So, back at home, it’s veggie time.
But that's only part of the story. There’s also the fact that our vegetable garden in Todi seems to be on steroids this year. Domenico stopped by our garden on Saturday, on his way back from a construction site (he’s working on a castle near Perugia) and came home with 15 kilos of green. 15 kilos. That’s over 30 pounds.
I could barely lift the bag.
Once I had sorted through all the various cabbages, heads of radicchio, leeks, broccoli and cauliflower I managed (just barely) to cram it all into our fridge.
And so began our week of intensive vegetable consumption.
While we went out to dinner both Saturday and Sunday nights (L’Asino d’Oro and Perilli) I did manage to make a dent in the bounty for Sunday lunch. Even though Domenico had ribollita in mind (we have a scary amount cavolo nero) I thought Sunday called for pasta.
This one is really simple, with the sauce consisting almost entirely of cavolo nero. Cavolo Nero is called Tuscan Kale in the States, and it’s true that it’s Tuscan. It really wasn’t until quite recently that you could even find this kale/cabbage hybrid in the markets in Rome, much less in Umbria. Which is why we started planting it in quantities in Todi.
Even if it is easier to find these days, we still continue to plant it, since it’s so easy and does so well. We buy baby starter plants at the nursery, planting them in mid August. By the beginning of October we can start harvesting the outer leaves, while the plant continues to produce from the center, up until March or so.
As the winter gets colder, the plant gets even tastier. Not only does it survive the frosts, but something about the intense burst of cold makes the leaves even sweeter.
I love cavolo nero simply sauteed, as a side dish, but also use the younger, inner leaves in salads (here and here). And a few leaves are the secret to any soup.
But back to the pasta. As I said it is very simple, just a few ingredients. I ended up adding chunks of pancetta, (remember, I said I wasn’t a vegetarian) but you really don’t have to if you don’t feel like it. Just substitute a big onion if you’d like, and soften it slowly before adding the leaves.
I also used chunks of ricotta salata, but if that’s hard to find just substitute any salty, somewhat fresh cheese, like feta.
If this recipe isn't for you, don't worry. I'll be reporting back with more. I still have quite a few kili of cavolo to work through this week.
pasta + cavolo nero
500 gr./ 1 pound penne
1 kilo/ 2 pounds cavolo nero (Tuscan Kale)
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup cubed pancetta
3/4 cup cubed ricotta salata
Strip the tender part of the cavolo nero leaves from the tough stem.
Discard the stem, and rinse the leaves.
Chop them into ribbons.
Pour oil into saute pan large enough to eventually hold all of the pasta and cavolo nero.
Heat oil gently and add pancetta. Cook until it give up it’s fat and becomes slightly crisp.
Scoop the pancetta out of the oil, and set aside in a bowl.
Turn heat down, and add garlic and pepper. Stir for a few minutes until fragrant.
Add all the chopped cavolo nero, and give it a few good stirs to coat it with the oil. Add about a tsp of salt and stir to coat.
Let the cavolo nero cook down, adding a bit of water now and then, if you think it’s too dry. After about 10 minutes add the pancetta back in. It will reduce quite a bit, and you want it to be very tender. It will take about a half hour to cook. Taste and adjust for salt.
In the meantime bring a big pot of water to boil, add salt, and cook the pasta until tender.
Drain pasta, reserving a cup of pasta cooking water. Over low heat, add drained pasta to the pan with the cavolo nero. Stir well, adding just enough pasta cooking water to keep it moist. Add cheese and serve.