Nutritious, delicious cavalo nero is a beautiful variety of brassica grown in Tuscany and often called Tuscan kale. It is a magnificent looking vegetable in the garden with dark, almost black leaves (hence its name ‘black cabbage’ in Italian) and unlike most brassicas it requires little space making it ideal for containers and urban gardens.

Nutritionally, cavalo nero is a fantastic source of antioxidants, minerals and fibre. In Italy it is commonly added to hearty winter soups such as minestrone and the famous bread-based ribollita, but it also stands on its own latestgreatestgadgetsandgizmos as a beautiful side dish and is wonderfully healthy when added to fresh juices.

 

Perfect for beginners, children and advanced vegetable growers alike, cavalo nero suffers from few problems and is a wonderful, cut-and-come-again source of Winter greens. Follow the advice below for a fruitful harvest.

Planting Cavalo Nero

Like most brassicas, cavalo nero is typically grown as a winter vegetable, and actually improves in flavour after a light frost. The plants are heavy feeders, so ensure they have a rich, fertile soil or growing medium that isn’t too acidic. A pH of 6.4 and above is best, so test using a pH test kit if the soil may have become sour over summer, and adjust with garden lime if necessary.

Cavalo nero seeds are available from specialist garden centres or from online seed purveyors such as The Italian Gardener . Good results can be achieved by either sowing direct or sowing in punnets then transplanting later. Sow the seeds 1cm deep, and if sowing direct, approximately 30cm apart. Water in gently and keep lightly moist for successful germination.

Seedlings can be transplanted gently once they are sturdy and hardened off. As with the seeds, transplant into a bed or pot with 30cm between each plant.

Cultivating Cavalo Nero

Cavalo nero is a relatively low maintenance plant. Soil should be kept lightly moist and the hungry plants will benefit from regular liquid feeds of diluted worm tea or fish emulsion. A thick layer of mulch will help to preserve soil moisture and control weeds.

Pests and diseases during winter are usually minimal, but aphids and caterpillars can pose a problem. If their numbers are out of hand, there are a number of organic remedies that can be sprayed on to control them. Otherwise picking and squashing usually is enough to keep the numbers at bay.

Harvesting Cavalo Nero

Harvesting cavalo nero is as easy as cutting off the leaves when you are ready to eat them. Cut the outer leaves at the base, allowing the centre of the plant to continue producing. This method allows for a quick and fresh supply for some months before the warm weather sets in and bitters the plants.

Cooking with Cavalo Nero

As with other cabbages and kale, cavalo nero can be steamed, boiled or braised, and is traditionally included in Italian winter soups, adding glorious colour and delicious sweetness. It is more robust than other forms of kale and will hold its firmness better, but it does require a longer cooking time and some people prefer to remove the stalks for a softer texture.

For a tasty side dish, try blanching cavalo nero for a few minutes, before squeezing out and pan frying with shallots, butter and lemon. Alternatively add it to a parmesan rich risotto just a few minutes before the end of the cooking time for lovely dark ribbons of toothsome leaves.

As with most greens, the possibilities are endless, so find a suitable spot in the garden and get growing!