In the odd world of fashionable vegetables, Cavolo nero ranks high enough to be showing in trendy recipes, putting it above even options like cardoon and burdock. It is a kale, a member of the brassica family, but coming from Italy and being of an interesting appearance, it is seen as a sophisticated option. It does not form a heart but instead has very long leaves in a palm-like formation, heavily crinkled or puckered (like a Savoy cabbage) and blackish green in colour. We tried growing kale one season but found it tough and unappealing. Mark commented that there may be reasons why our forbears preferred other brassicas to kale. Our cat at the time, the contrary Miss Buffy, confounded us by eating the cooked kale we rejected, but that should not be taken as an affirmation of taste and texture. Kale is very hardy and reliable in conditions where even other brassicas struggle.
Despite its unusual appearance and trendy reputation, Cavolo nero is a typical brassica – cold hardy, will hold in the winter garden but best avoided for mid summer growth because it is just as vulnerable as others in the family to white butterfly and aphids. You are unlikely to find plants for sale so will almost certainly have to start with seed. You can source seed from Italian Seeds Pronto or Kings Seeds. If you are really keen, you could try an early spring sowing for harvest two months later though it is more commonly sown in late summer to grow through autumn and to hold in the garden for winter harvest. Frosts are reputed to intensify and sweeten the flavour, somewhat akin to swedes, but some of us think this may have more to do with wishful thinking.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.