I wasn’t an early adopter of kale. With every bite, I felt like the sturdy, prickly leaf was telling me not to be eaten. But black cabbage or Cavolo Nero is a different animal. The leaves look like the matted feathers of an exotic bird and merge into a silky, unctuous, bittersweet pool. It works really well tempered with a nutty, chewy grain like spelled and just a touch of white wine, chilli, and fennel. After all these years I’m still a second-hand seller of kale, but I’ve walked several country miles for cavolo nero.
Cavolo nero with spelled and walnuts
This spelled and greens combo was inspired by a fantastic nettle and spelled dish that Matt Smith made while working at The Old Coastguard in Mousehole, Cornwall; he’s cooking right down the street The Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn. You need a blender to make it.
preparation 5 minutes
Cook 50 minutes
400g Cavolo Nero
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to exit
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, pounded in a mortar
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or crushed
¾ teaspoon chilli flakes
1 glass (175 ml) dry white wine
250g pearled spelled – I like Sharpham Park‘S
750ml vegetable stock
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus a pinch to finish off
1 large handful (75 g) peeled walnuts, decorate
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Remove the Cavolo nero leaves by holding the base of each stem with one hand and using the other hand, pushing up the length to peel the leaves off. Compost the stems.
Add the leaves handful to handful to the boiling water and boil for five minutes (you will likely need to keep suppressing them), then drain and wash under cold running water until cool enough to handle. Squeeze as much excess water out of the Cavolo nero as possible, then roughly chop the leaves and put them in a blender. Add 150 ml of water and stir to a thick puree.
Transfer the oil to a large pan over medium heat and, once hot, add the onion and fennel and sauté for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to turn brown. Stir in garlic and chilli flakes and cook for two minutes. Pour in the wine, let it sparkle for a few minutes, then add the spelled and about a quarter of the broth. When the liquid has been absorbed or is running low, stir in a third of the remaining broth, let it soak in gradually and repeat until the spelled is tender – it took me about 20 minutes in total. Add the flashed Cavolo-Nero mixture and season with salt, stir, let it bubble for five minutes, then remove from heat.
Place the walnuts in a clean towel and roughly chop (or roughly chop) with a rolling pin. Place a tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the nuts and a pinch of salt and stir-fry for three minutes.
Divide the spelled on four plates, put a pile of nuts on each one and bathe everything in even more extra virgin olive oil if you like.