Ahhh, the elusive cavolo nero! This mysterious green is an essential ingredient for authentic ribollita – a Tuscan soup made with tomatoes, beans, kale and bread. Since first tasting this classic soup on a chilly winter day in Tuscany, I have been on a search for this hardy, healthful green in America. With kale’s recent rise in popularity in American cooking, I was wonderfully surprised to find a huge fresh bucket full of cavolo nero at our local farmer’s market; its dark green and purple wrinkly leaves almost smiling at me as if to say ‘Here I am!! Finally here I am!!’. Over the moon excited, I smiled at my elusive friend and quickly gathered a basketful. Wohoo! What to cook first?!?! Having decided on a lemon roasted chicken for supper, I thought a nutritious kale and sweet potato combination would be the perfect side to this simple Sunday supper. And now that I have found a source for my little green buddy , I have a long list of possibilities turning around in my head – simply braised, or over pasta with garlic or on crostini. And finally I can make that authentic ribollita. Look for more recipes in the frosty days ahead – so exciting! Buon appetito!!
Black Kale, Sweet Potato and Cheddar Gratin
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1″ chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium to large shallots, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into slivers
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped (Tuscan kale if you can find it!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
A pinch of fresh nutmeg
1 cup of grated cheddar, divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Fill a large sauce pot with cold water. Add the diced sweet potatoes and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer until tender – about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander.
3. In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in the kale and simmer until tender – about 10 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4. Add the milk and butter. Simmer for just a few minutes to allow the butter to melt and the mixture to blend. Add the nutmeg and stir to incorporate.
5. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher. Add in the kale mixture and stir to incorporate. Add in 1/2 cup of the grated cheddar. Adjust seasonings.
6. Butter the inside of a baking dish – about 8X8 in size. Transfer the potato mixture to the prepared dish. Smooth over the top. Sprinkle with the additional 1/2 cup of cheddar. Bake until golden brown – about 30 minutes.
7. Serve! Buon appetito!