Feb 21 2005

Winter Veg

Cavolo Nero

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One of the most versatile and handsome vegetables standing majestically in my vegetable garden this winter is the Italian cabbage, Cavolo Nero. It’s thin, long dark green leaves are the essential part of Ribollita, the famous Tuscan bean and cabbage soup, made a day in advance and “re-boiled”. Yesterday’s minestrone!

Walking back from the farmyard to the house today, I picked a hand full of leaves and pulled up a leek. With the addition of a couple of carrots and potatoes, a parsnip, shallot, a tin of haricot beans and one of tomatoes, and a handful of scraps of ham we had a thick and delicious soup for supper. Ribollita tomorrow.

I grew my plants from seed for the first time last year. I planted them out in blocks where they now stand like little green palms in the bare earth. The narrow green leaves can be snapped off the plant encouraging new growth. Tiny new leaves are wonderful in winter salad with the variegated chicory, radicchio sotto marina, mizuma, and land cress all over wintering in the poly tunnel.

Cavolo Nero can be braised with garlic and ham and become a meal in itself. My favourite way to use it, though, is with rich garlicy flageolet beans. Rinse the dried beans and then soak for 30 minutes. Bring to a fast boil for 15 minutes. It‘s important to pre boil all dried beans because some contain toxins and the best rule of thumb is pre boil them all! Now drain them, rinse again and then simmer gently for about an hour. Do not salt the water, this toughens the skins of the beans.

You can of course simply open a tin! Put the cooked beans in a pan with a dash of olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and a teaspoon of dried herbs. Leave to infuse.

Strip the tough storks from the cabbage leaves and blanch for a couple of minutes in boiling water. Drain thoroughly and stir into the beans. Warm through gently. Serve with any grilled meat, roast shoulder of lamb (see ) or braised sausages with gravy and mashed potato for a comforting meal on a cold winters evening.

Chard

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The spinach chard still sparkles it’s red and yellow and white stalks in the winter sun. I chop the stalks and cook them first then add the chopped leaves for a swift wilt. Then I drain and refresh under cold water. I squeeze all the water out with my (clean!) hands and use in many ways.

Into a buttered dish it may go with cream and eggs and grated cheese followed by a quick visit to a hot oven till the eggs are set turns it into Oeuf Florentine.

Mixed with cream, two beaten eggs and some smoked salmon it makes a delicious filling for a quiche or simply stir it into a simple dhal of red lentils, garlic, cumin, turmeric and grated fresh ginger. There are no end of possibilities.

And then of course Potatoes!

Surely one of the most comforting of winter foods and without doubt the most versatile.

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