Spaghetti with braised cavolo nero and ricotta
I shouldn’t really be here.
Sorry, let me rephrase that, I should be here, meaning I should be sitting on this wonky chair in front of this ancient computer tip typing away with 3 fingers, I just shouldn’t here here as in racheleats here talking to you about my lunch yesterday.
But I am.
Firstly because I need to puncture the tedium and frustration that is the task presently in my incapable hands and secondly because yesterday’s lunch of spaghetti with cavolo nero (Tuscan kale /black cabbage) and ricotta was so good.
This is the kind of of pasta lunch I like, simple, tasty and a clever combination of good ingredients. Spaghetti tossed with ribbons of cavolo nero -which have been braised into soft tenderness in olive oil, butter, garlic and a little water – to which you add a very large spoonful of ricotta and top with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.
I can’t wait to make it for Vincenzo, I can’t wait to make it again.
I have been meaning to make this for nearly a year now, 359 days to be exact, I know because I just checked, Luisa posted this recipe on the 19th November 2008. I very nearly made it, it must have been late Jan or early Feb, I bought some cavolo nero and ricotta, I even scribbled – and I mean scribbled, my handwriting is worse than my doctors – the recipe down in my notebook. But with one thing and another it never got made, I seem to remember making a funny ricotta cake thing and we probably ate the cavolo nero braised.
It was nearly again last friday when I spied a very handsome bundle of the long dark green almost blue- black crinkled leaves of cavolo nero at the market. We had some very nice ricotta in the fridge, plenty of spaghetti, it was perfect……here we go I thought…. finally. Then Vincenzo reminded me we had already taken the pesto from the freezer for lunch – damn that pesto I thought – and that the fridge was full of green things that needed attention – damn those other green things, damn that Vincenzo I thought. Needless to say I didn’t buy the cavolo nero.
Until yesterday morning
I’ve always liked kale – particularly cavolo nero – the robust, swarthy, bitter – sweet cousin of cabbage, the rogue cousin, the pirate of the cabbage world. If Johnny Depp* were a cabbage he would be cavolo nero whilst Jude Law would be an easier, accessable, sweeter but frankly rather boring round, smooth white one.
But even though liked it, I never really got to grips with cooking it before I came to Italy. Cavolo nero is hardy, strong in flavour and texture, don’t forget, it’s a cabbage pirate, it’s tough at times, even the smaller more delicate, sweeter central leaves. Cavolo doesn’t scream when it’s picked, it goes grrrrrr* m’ hearty. It needs cooking carefully and for some time if you really want to appreciate the wonderful texture and deep taste……. Italians know this.
In Tuscany it is paired with beans for the robustly delicious soup Ribollita so-called beacuse it is ribollita (reboiled) and eaten the day after being made which improves the flavour, especially of the cavolo. In the south cavolo nero is braised with oil, garlic, peperoncino, a little water and sometimes pancetta until it is soft.
Which brings us back to the recipe, the spaghetti, tossed with the braised cavolo nero and ricotta and topped with parmesan.
There is nothing complicated about this recipe.
Wash and pick over the cavolo nero, discarding any leaves that are damaged or very very large. Then strip the dark leaves from their tough stems, cut them into ribbons and then wilt them down in plenty of olive oil, a knob of butter with garlic and peperoncino over a happy flame. You then add some water and leave the cavolo nero bubbling and braising away, half-covered over a very modest flame for about half an hour in which time it becomes soft and tender.
While you cook your pasta, you carefully mix the braised cavolo nero and the ricotta together in a large warm bowl. THEN you scoop ladleful of the well salted, starchy pasta water from the pan the pasta is rolling around in – the magic ingredient -to add to the cavolo nero/ricotta mixture to thin it into a looser, creamy paste which will coat the pasta.
Finally, drain and add the pasta to the sauce, toss carefully.
Serve in warm bowls, quickly grate over some parmesan, maybe a grind of black pepper, toss everything together again with your fork and EAT.
It’s really delicious by the way.
Spaghetti with Braised Cavolo Nero and Ricotta
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as starter
Just slightly adapted but wholly inspired by Luisa
- 1 big bunch of cavolo nero (Tuscan kale.Curly kale works well too)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- small knob of butter or lard
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole but squashed with the back of a knife
- 1/2 a small fresh or dried peperoncino, chopped finely or if dried crushed
- 150g /2/3 cup fresh ricotta
- 300g dried spaghetti
Wash the cavolo nero, strip the leaves from the ribs and then chop the leaves into thick ribbons.
Warm the olive oil, butter and garlic in heavy based frying pan, add the peperoncino and the cavolo nero and some salt. Cook over low heat, uncovered, for about 10 minutes by which point the cavolo nero should be good and wilted
Add a cup of water, partially cover the pot and let it cook for another half hour and the cavolo nero is very soft and tender.
In the meantime, put the ricotta in a serving dish and bring a big pan of well salted water to a fast boil for the pasta. When the cavolo nero is cooked, add it to the ricotta and mix well.
Put the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Spoon some of the starchy pasta water from the boiling pan into the cavolo nero/ricotta mixture to thin it into a creamy, loose sauce (I used about 4 tbsp of pasta water)
Drain the pasta and toss with the cavolo nero and ricotta.
Grate a very generous amount of parmesan over the pasta and toss well before serving and eating immediately.
* thankyou for the spell check Elena and Tracy
* update. Deborah and Gemma have both pointed out that pirates say arrr not grrr. They are right.