The Elusive Cavolo Nero (Black Kale): Black Kale, Sweet Potato and Cheddar Gratin

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!

Join the Conversation

  1. Sounds like the perfect combo. We are in Italy for vacation, and love the food this time of year….so filling!

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