I’ve decided I’m going to start calling Tuscan kale by its Italian name, “cavolo nero.” Despite the fact that I eat it quite a bit, somehow whenever I talk about kale I end up swallowing my words. What can you say about kale? The brassica once unknown to this country is now the epitome of “health food”; liquefied into green juices and chopped into raw salads. Also: kale chips. I am tired of hearing about your kale chips, no offense, guys. On top of everything, I feel a little sad for all the other equally wonderful leafy greens, talking about collards more than a person has a right to do. Cavolo nero sounds like Machiavelli’s cousin or perhaps a dark, handsome, misunderstood villain. Cavolo nero, in short, sounds a little cooler (unless, of course, you translate it from Italian, in which case “kale” is much better than “black cabbage”). And indeed, kale has a much more beautiful, deeply-rooted history than just as a health-food fetish, dating back all the way to ancient Rome. Kale was so important as a cold weather crop in old Europe that Anglo-Saxons actually called February “Kale-monath”. Now, its peasant-food roots are probably best known in the Tuscan day-old bread soup, ribollita. We had gorgeous cavolo nero growing up until about a week ago. The slugs appear to have followed me from DC, though, and called their buddies the cabbage worms. As soon as the kale gets anywhere near ready to pick, it’s essentially decimated. Sigh. So I’ve been relying on other nearby kale-growers for my cavolo nero supply.Right now, any cavolo nero that you get will likely be big, since (at least in the mid-Atlantic U.S.) we’re nearing the end of kale season until the autumn. This dish, that I like to make for myself when I work from home, is perfect for some of those overblown and possibly a bit tough Tuscan kale leaves. Braised in a little garlicky oil and broth, the kale gets meltingly tender. After nestling a few eggs in and baking it, the pierced yolk makes a velvety sauce for the dish. In other words, this kale is sexy enough to be worthy of the images cavolo nero evokes.
Cavolo nero breakfast skillet
This recipe serves 2-3. I use an 8-inch cast iron skillet for it. To serve more—this is a great weekend brunch dish—use a larger skillet, 10-inch or 12-inch, and up the amount of everything accordingly.
You will need
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed with the flat of a knife, peeled, and roughly chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
3 cups cavolo nero (tuscan kale, dino kale, lacinato kale, whatever you want to call it!), washed and roughly torn into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or other light broth
Freshly ground pepper
- In an oven-safe skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, just a minute or so, until the garlic is aromatic. Don’t allow the garlic to brown. Add the red pepper flakes.
Add the kale in handfuls, tossing it in the oil, and allowing it to wilt down a bit before adding more. When all the kale has been tossed in the oil, allow it to cook a minute or so more.
Add the broth to the skillet and stir. Simmer the kale mixture for 5-10 minutes, letting the kale deepen in color and become very tender. If you think you need more broth, add it. At the end of its simmering, much of the liquid should be thickened or cooked off, though. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Turn your broiler on high. Using the back of a wooden spoon, make small wells in the kale mixture. Carefully crack eggs into each of the wells. Let the eggs cook for a bit, undisturbed, in the stovetop, until the whites begin to become opaque and set up.
Then, transfer the skillet to the oven. Broil, until the whites are completely cooked but the yolks are still soft (or to desired doneness), another 5-10 minutes.
Scatter fresh oregano leaves across the top of the kale and eggs. To serve, use a wide, flatter spoon to scoop up the cooked egg and the kale mixture around it. Serve with crusty bread.