Growing Great Garlic
Traditionally you plant garlic cloves on the shortest day of the year. Garlic is one ...
Win! A copy of Sleep Solutions by Rachel Waddilove
Most new parents expect to have sleepless nights, but are they as much an inevitable ...
Dinosaur kale is definitely not extinct!
Feeding my hungry family from our small urban garden is beyond the capacity of my green fingers, no matter how much muck and compost is added to improve yields.
With limited space, I prefer to leave the bulk supplies of everyday stomach fillers to commercial growers and put my toil with the soil into something weird and wonderful that keeps diners guessing about the food on their plate.
A hardy brassica, cavolo nero is recommended for cooler growing months, which is reputed to sweeten the leaves, but I thought I’d give it a whirl this summer.
Admittedly, the Auckland weather left much to be desired for those who wanted to swan about at the seaside but the funky cavolo nero thrived in the unseasonably cloudy and damp conditions.
It was easily grown in spring from seed tossed into punnets of seed-raising mix and resulted in so many seedlings that I had to look for any spot where I could poke in a plant.
Pots and gaps between tomato plants were filled with the determined Italian leafy green, which is often referred to as black kale.
Like many heirloom vegetables, the old beauty coped with an infestation of summer bugs in my organic garden, which occasionally suffers from neglect when life becomes hectic.
As long as I didn’t let hungry nibblers gorge themselves too much – digital control of caterpillars and a little garlic and pyrethrum spray were enough to keep the cavolo nero thriving.
The real beauty of cavolo nero is that the cook can pick the perfect quantity of leaves from the lower parts of plants and the tough buggers continue to produce tasty leaves.
The vegetable grows in a palm-like fashion until it’s time to toss some of the plant matter into the compost bin.
Often found on Italian menus, the humble cavolo nero has a rustic Tuscan charm, rather than something fancy from Milan’s designer centre.
Parents will love another of its common names – dinosaur kale – which may encourage reluctant littlies to eat their dinosaur food.
My cookbooks were sadly lacking in recipes so I looked online for ways to use the copious bunches of leaves I was regularly harvesting.
Traditionally included in minestrone, some recipes actually suggested cooking it for hours on end which all seemed a bit hot and bothersome in humid, summer weather.
I found it tasty in stir fries with beef and oyster sauce and it was a versatile substitute for Asian cabbages.
I have recently sown more seed directly into raised beds and will test cavolo nero’s performance throughout winter.
Maybe then I’ll be more enticed to trial the hearty recipes better suited to chilly days.
Cavolo nero seed is in the Kings Seeds’ range and can be bought from online seed suppliers.
Contributed by Jackie Russell.
PHOTO: An occasional munch by caterpillars failed to conquer cavolo nero if the pests were dealt to quickly enough.