Leafy, deep-green cavolo nero is great to eat now. We visited a Lincolnshire farm to find out more about this hearty vegetable.
Cavolo nero is great for winter cooking. Its dark green leaves stand up to slow simmering and are excellent wilted into pasta dishes (see our recipe, right). Although it originates from Italy, today it’s grown in the UK. Andy Blair (above), manager at Emmett UK, explains what it takes to get it from field to plate.
Cavolo nero is still a relatively new veg to Brits, but we’ve been growing it here in Lincolnshire and supplying it to Tesco for seven years. We farm 35 acres, which isn’t a lot. But, as with kale, a similar crop, cavolo nero is becoming an everyday ingredient in home cooking, too.
We sow seeds in April/May and grow them in glasshouses before moving the plants to the fields from June to July. The land here was reclaimed from the sea many years ago, which means our soil is fine and silky. It’s very fertile and water retentive, providing perfect conditions for cavolo nero.
Every day I walk the fields and check the leaves for damage. Of course, we want to use as little pesticide as possible, and the crop sprayers we have allow us to keep the amount to a minimum.
We harvest the plants when the leaves are about 35cm long and dark green with a bubbly texture. We also like to make sure the plants are strong enough to withstand a harvest, so that once the leaves are picked, new leaves will sprout for picking later on in the season.
We’re a small team, with just four pickers out on the fields at 7am every day. Harvesting by hand, rather than cutting with a knife, allows us to tell if the leaves are good (they should snap, rather than bend), so we’re able to pick those that are just right. It’s usually done and delivered to the preparation unit by 4pm, where the cavolo nero is washed, packed and stored in fridges, ready to be sent out the next day. We deliver around 50 tonnes a year to Tesco.
I enjoy what I do, though there are some days in the winter when I wouldn’t mind a desk job! I take a bit of the veg home for sampling. Cavolo nero is delicious quickly steamed and served with a roast dinner, or stir-fried with chilli and garlic to go with fish. But whatever you do, don’t overcook it.
Did you know …
* Cavolo nero originated in Tuscany, Italy, and its name means ‘black cabbage’.
* This leafy veg is a part of the brassica family. It has a sweet, tangy taste, but tastes bitter if left too long, so buy it as and when you plan to eat it.
* Store it in a perforated bag or wrapped in kitchen roll in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Don’t wash it until you’re ready to cook it – this will keep it fresh for longer.
* The best way to prepare cavolo nero is just to pick the crisp, unblemished leaves from the tough stalk.
Why not try the cavolo nero pasta with pancetta and pine nuts recipe featured in this issue?
As featured in Tesco Magazine February 2014.