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Cavolo Nero Swirled into Gigandes Beans

Updated February 23, 2016
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Gigandes beans, popular in Greece and Spain, are large, white, and substantial. In this simple, tasty wintertime dish, deep green cavolo nero is swirled through a platter of the steaming white beans for a stunning presentation. Serve as a main course with a salad for a light supper, or offer as a side dish to roast pork or lamb or grilled steak. Rancho Gordo sells a wide variety of dried beans at the market.

Cavolo Nero:

Also known as lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, black cabbage, and Tuscan kale, cavolo nero just might be the ideal winter green. Andy Griffin, who sells beautiful bunches of it that he grows at his Mariquita Farm, begs his customers not to call it by its American epithet, dino kale. It’s easy to digest and it’s said to be great for hangovers, it barely needs any washing, and it keeps a long time. It tastes and looks stunning in soups, pastas, with beans, and on polenta, and can be braised and made into a pesto with garlic and olive oil for serving on top of toast.

Cavolo nero has long been known as Tuscany’s peasant winter green. The slightly spicy, dark green, long-leaf borecole is closely related to curly kale. The plants look like miniature palms. In the United States, cavolo nero is picked by the leaf and bundled. In Italy, the tip of the young plant is cut off, the tough stem is trimmed, and the leaves are sliced and used as an essential ingredient in an authentic ribollita (Tuscan bean-and-vegetable soup) and other dishes.

The leaf rosettes of cavolo nero can withstand temperatures below freezing, making this hardy kale an ideal winter vegetable. In fact, its flavor is best after the first freeze, which converts the starches to sugars and makes the greens more digestible.

Season:

Fall through winter.

Choosing:

Look for plump, crisp leaves and avoid any that are yellow or have a strong odor. The stems should be vibrant and nonfibrous. Since kale contains a high percentage of water, it will shrink considerably when cooked, so buy more than you think you will need.

Storing:

Keep in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Wash just before using.

Preparing:

Rinse cavolo nero by grasping the stems and shaking the leaves under cold running water. Separate the leaves of the bundle. Holding a leaf at the stem, cut along either side of the spine and discard it.

Serves6 to 8

Cooking Methodsauteeing

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timehalf-day

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course, side dish

Dietary Considerationmain course, side dish

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturegarlicky

Type of Dishvegetable

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gigandes or other dried white beans
  • 2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • Salt
  • 2 to 3 bunches cavolo nero, leaves separated, spines removed, and leaves cut into 2- to 3-inch-wide strips if large
  • A few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Instructions

Pick over the beans, rinse well, place in a bowl, cover with cold water, and let soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Drain the beans and place in a saucepan. Add water to cover by a few inches, add thyme or a rosemary sprig, and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer gently until the beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours. The timing will depend on how long the beans were soaked and how long they sat on the shelf.

Just before the beans are ready, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the cavolo nero and parboil for about 5 minutes. Drain well.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the cavolo nero and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove the herb sprigs, and discard the garlic. Keep warm.

When the beans are ready, scoop out and reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and then drain the beans. Season the beans with salt and pepper. Place the beans in a warmed deep platter with a lip and swirl in the cavolo nero and enough of the reserved cooking water to make the dish juicy. Drizzle generously with olive oil and pass the cheese at the table.

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