The seasons change, and so does the food: autumn, time for kale

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It is strange, at least for those who were not born in this beautiful country. After the feast of the assumption, that is to say after 15 August, the Italians prepare for autumn and for the return to school; so by the beginning of September, while it is still 35 degrees outside, the clothing of the children is purely autumnal.

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The same thing happens in the kitchen. From the dishes with the perfumes of sun, sea and vacation, one passes directly to dishes requiring longer cooking time, more flavorsome, hotter and richer in calories; thicker, in a word.

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Among the favorite recipes, not only in Italy, there are dishes which contain (or which have added to them) cabbage; we think of minestrone or rolls; of cassoeula milanese or of Alsatian choucroute.

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That cabbage plays an integral part in the life of the population is clear from many things: the German “kolhdampf schieben” can be translated as “to be hungry”; in Italy a “testa di cavolo” (literally “head of cabbage”) is a person who is foolish or helpless; in France to “envoyer quelqu’un planter ses choux” means to send someone to that country.

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Also the great variety of cabbages is remarkable; one can encounter ordinary cabbage, red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnip, and so forth.

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These varieties are used in black cabbage gruel and in ribolitta, two typical Tuscan dishes, and instead of black cabbage (which the rest of the world knows as kale), with the difference that in Tuscany the kale has straighter sheafs and is traditionally covered with bubbles.

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According to Tuscan housewives, in order for kale to release all its flavors, it must be soaked in a brine; for now, we will not do this. Instead, I want to share a recipe from Artusi, a writer, gastronome, and literary critic who is prominent in the world of Tuscan cooking. For those who come to visit, tasting a dish based on kale is an absolute must!

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Sliced kale

Some use this for stews. Roast thick slices of bread and rub them with garlic, meanwhile boil the kale in water, remove, and place on the sliced breat, then adding salt, pepper, and oil. This, which in Florence is called “sliced kale”, is certain to inflict penance on a glutton.

Here follows a recipe with corn flour and kale

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Kale gruel (serves 4)

2 bunches of kale (500g each)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 tomatoes
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can of beans (borlotti or cannellini)
Water as needed
200g of precooked corn flour (polenta)

Brown the onions, carrots, and celery over low heat for 10 minutes in oil. At the same time wash the kale and cut into fine strips. Add to the pan, together with diced tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. Cover with water and allow to boil for 45 minutes. Add the yellow flour and stir continuously, cooking over low heat until the polenta is fully cooked. Serve hot with a spash of olive oil.

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Anneliese Rabl (translation John McAuliffe) x

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