Until recently Cavolo Nero, or 'Tuscan Kale', was one of Italy's best kept secrets. Simply adored, especially in the north of Italy, it has been an essential fare with, or as part of, traditional dishes for centuries. Cavolo Nero can now be found in garden markets, specialist greengrocers and trendy restaurants throughout Europe.
Much credit for its surge in popularity should be attributed to the famous London restaurant The River Cafe, which featured Cavolo Nero heavily in the imaginatively titled 'River Cafe Cookbook' (1996). Keen cooks initially inquisitive and now increasingly enthusiastic about this Italian heirloom are spreading the word, very soon the Black Cabbage will be grown on everyone’s plot!
Cavolo Nero is an essential ingredient in the famous Tuscan soup ‘Ribollita’, the "reboiled" bean soup thickened with bread and drizzled with olive oil. It can be used, as with most Italian ingredients, in a massive range of dishes including risotto, pasta and frittata. However, the tastiest, simplest and most effect way of using this wonderful vegetable is probably the most common in Italy - effortlessly sautéed in good olive oil and flavoured with garlic, lemon, chilli and sea salt. Simple food never tasted this good.
Cavolo Nero is a member of the Kale family, not Cabbage as the common name would suggest. It is extremely cold hardy and will tolerate conditions that would make most brassicas keel over. The flavour actually improves after a hard frost. It is immune to most of the disease that trouble many Brassicas including pigeons.
Prepare the site:
There is an ideal soil and site for Kale but rest assured it will grow in almost all conditions, even part shade. It will produce a good crop provided that the drainage is satisfactory. For the ultimate crop, grow in full sun in a soil that was enriched with compost or manure the previous season.
As the seedlings are not transplanted until June or July, it is usual to use land which has recently been vacated by peas, early potatoes or other early summer crops. Kale benefits from additional feedings of liquid fertilizer during the growing season; the flavour is improved if the plants grow quickly.
Sowing: Sow in spring and autumn
Sow the seeds in a seed bed from April onwards. The timing is not crucial because kales will germinate in temperatures as low as 5°C (42°F) and as high as 35°C (95°F). That's an enormous range for any vegetable. The trick is to time the planting so the kale matures in cold weather.
Kale does not tolerate heat, so direct seed or transplant kale so that it comes to harvest before day time temperatures exceed 80°F.
Sow kale under cover in autumn for baby leaves after four to six weeks, or directly outdoors for an over-wintering crop.
Sow the seeds about 1.5cm (½in) deep in rows which are 22cm (9in) apart. Germination will take about 10 days. When the plant is about 22cm (9in) high and four leaves have developed (about 6 -8 weeks after sowing) transplant them to their final positions.
They should be planted slightly deeper than they grew in the seed bed. Spacings are 45cm (18in) apart with rows the same distance apart. Water the young plants in dry weather.
Almost no care is required because these are one of the strongest and most disease resistant of all vegetables. Remove yellowing leaves which may appear round the base. Keep the weeds under control with regular hoeing. As winter approaches earth up plants to protect against frost and wind rock. Mulch thickly when the ground freezes and you can harvest again in early spring.
Harvest: Matures 53 to 65 days from transplant.
Wait until the plants are touched by a frost to sweeten the taste. When the leaves have experienced a cold snap, they wrinkle and curl and strengthen greatly, creating a more satisfying, textural leaf. Some of the tastiest kale is harvested under a foot of snow!
Pluck individual leaves as you need them; one or two leaves for each serving. Avoid cutting the developing bud at the centre of each plant.
The best recipes will be found in Italian cookbooks. It goes well with: Pork, Pumpkin, Chickpeas, Pecorino, Pasta, Venison, Lamb, Garlic, Mushrooms. Boil, steam or stir-fry. Nutritionists would label it a super-food, rich in iron and vitamins.
Beets, Celery, Cucumbers, Dill, Garlic, Hyssop, Lettuce, Mint, Nasturtium, Onions, Potatoes, Rosemary, Sage, Spinach, Swiss chard
Rotate your crops, planting brassicas, of any kinds, in the same ground more often than once every four years runs the risk of club root infestation and once you have it, the ground is useless for up to a decade. Don't take needless chances, even with "catch crops" of radishes.
Because Kale eats up a lot of growing space if planted in a bed with the other brassicas, you may prefer to grow kale in a bucket or other generous planter, separate from your main crops. The soil can then be easily replaced annually, with old soil being dumped far from any growing area.
Kale is known botanically by the name Brassica oleracea variety acephala which translates to mean "cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head." (Cabbage plants are named Brassica oleracea variety capitata, which translates to "cabbage of the vegetable garden with a head.")
Kale is a Scottish word derived from coles (Greek) or caulis (Roman), terms that refer to the whole cabbage-like group of plants. The German word kohl has the same origin.
Kale is also called borecole, the word comes from the Dutch word ‘boerenkool’. Boer meaning farmer or peasant and ‘kool’ (cole) meaning cabbage.
With their loose leaves, Kale are the most primitive members of the cabbage family and considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms.
Their origins are in the eastern Mediterranean area and Asia Minor. Kales have been food crops since about 2000 B.C. In Europe, kale was the most common green vegetable until the end of the Middle Ages.
The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. The cultivar group ‘acephala’, meaning ‘non-heading’, also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.
Although kale varies in colour from pale yellowish to deep green through deep steely blue to purplish red and almost black, it is usually classified by the leaf form and texture. The blue-green colour of some varieties is associated with greater cold tolerance.
Scotch types have very curled and wrinkled leaves, Russian (or Siberian) types are almost flat with finely divided edges, while Italian heirloom ‘Lacinato’ is in a class of its own. Japanese kale, also known as Ornamental Brassicas is primarily used for decorative or ornamental purposes.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 5 grams Average Seed Count 1,250 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 250 seeds per gram Common Name Black Cabbage, Tuscan Kale, Borecole
Heritage (Italian pre 1879)
Other Common Names Dinosaur Kale, Lacinato, Borecole Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species oleracea acephala group Cultivar Nero de Toscana Hardiness Hardy Biennial Position Rest assured Kale will grow in almost all conditions Soil It will produce a good crop provided that the drainage is satisfactory Time to Sow From April onwards. Germination About 10 days. Harvest Pluck individual leaves as you need them Time to Harvest Matures 53 to 65 days from transplant.