If you have ever dreamed of traveling to Italy, finding a small trattoria out in the countryside, and sampling some of the wonderful foods you have read about for years, then you are like me. I think we all hope that we can find that special little spot that the tourists haven’t discovered. We would all enjoy being served course after course of simply prepared foods cooked from recipes that have been passed down for several generations…we want to experience a true taste of Italy. One course we might be served is cavolo nero con fagioli e patate which is a peasant dish based on black Tuscan kale, cannellini beans and potatoes.
This is a simple yet delicious soup or stew which is typical of the farming regions of Italy, but primarily found in Tuscany during the fall and winter. Maybe you have seen this dish referred to as a zuppa, stufato, minestrone, minestra or a ribollitta. Whatever name you might know it by, two of the main ingredients are usually Tuscan kale (sometimes referred to as black cabbage) and cannellini beans. Every family seems to have their own recipe for this simple, healthy and delicious dish and it can even vary during the seasons. It is usually served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little grated cheese.
If you have plans for cooking a pot of beans from scratch, save several cups for this delicious soup. It will be equally good if you use canned cannellini beans for a quick meal. This dish is reminiscent of what I have had while traveling in Italy. It can be prepared with the addition of other seasonal vegetables that are fresh in the market.
Cavolo Nero Con Fagioli E Patate
Tuscan Kale With Cannellini Beans And Potatoes
- A large bunch of Tuscan kale, washed, stemmed and torn into bite size pieces
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional to drizzle
- 2 pieces of pancetta or bacon, chopped (You can leave out for a vegetarian dish)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 rib of celery, chopped
- 3 or 4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used Yukon Gold)
- 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)
- a sprig or two of fresh thyme (remove stems before serving)
- 1 couple of sage leaves, chopped
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
- 4 c. of cooked cannellini beans or 2 cans (19 oz. each), rinsed and drained
- salt and pepper to taste
- 6 c. of water ( 2 c. of vegetable or chicken broth can be substituted for a portion of the water for added flavor)
Bring 6 cups of lightly salted water to a boil, add kale and cook for two or three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, retaining the cooking water in the pot. Add the potatoes and beans to the cooking water.
Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a sauté pan, add pancetta or bacon and cook until almost crisp. Add the onion and celery to the pan and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, herbs and pepper and cook for one minute, then add to the cooking water. Let cook until the potatoes are tender and the beans are starting to break up a little. Mash some with the back of a spoon.
In the meantime, add the additional 2 Tbsp. of oil to the sauté pan and add the blanched kale, and cook until almost tender. Add to the pot of beans and potatoes. Taste for additional seasonings and let cook for an additional ten minutes before serving.
Many cooks place a toasted piece of bread in the bottom of each bowl and pour the soup over. I choose to serve bruschetta all’olio on the side of the plate. Toast or grill a piece of bread, rub it with a clove of garlic and drizzle it with olive oil. Whichever way you decide to serve this dish, pour a little extra virgin olive oil over it at the table along with a little bit of freshly grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese.
I think you will enjoy this dish and feel like you have had a true taste of Italy. Now you need to find that little trattoria out in the Italian countryside before the tourists do. Perhaps after your wonderful meal, the owner will take you into his barn and show you his treasured barrels of wine or balsamic vinegar that he is watching over so carefully.