Tuscan kale ups the veggie ante to pasta

Mario Batali

Often called black cabbage and Italian or Tuscan kale, cavolo nero is one of my favorite leafy greens to cook with throughout colder months. It’s an incredibly versatile source of fiber and can up the vegetable ante in almost any savory dish.

Originally grown in central Italy, cavolo nero grows during the fall and winter. Its distinct leaf wrinkles are caused during the growing season when temperatures dramatically drop.

With similar properties to kale, cavolo nero has a lighter, yet earthier flavor with just as many health-boasting benefits. High levels of vitamins A, B and C, as well as iron, make it a prime ingredient in pastas and green juices alike. Its dark green leaves and rustic crinkled appearance has made cavolo nero a popular option for chefs cooking with cabbage varieties for decades.

Quick, simple preparations are the best to make the most of the delicate flavor, so don’t be tempted to overcook it. Food, like most things, is best when left to its own simple beauty. But always remember to chiffonade the dark veiny leaves of the cavolo nero before steaming, pan-frying, blanching or cooking quickly in a stir-fry.

Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 25 restaurants.

Fusilli Corti with Sausage and Cavolo Nero

Basic tomato sauce

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, cut in 1/4 inch dice

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried

1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded

2 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

Kosher salt to taste

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8-10 minutes.

Add the thyme and carrot; cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft.

Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often.

Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal.

Season with salt.

Note: This sauce holds one week in the refrigerator or up to six months in the freezer.

Fusilli Corti with Sausage and Cavolo Nero

1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped into 1/2-inch dice

1 pound Italian sausage with fennel seeds, casing removed, meat crumbled

1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce (see recipe below)

1 bunch (about 8 ounces) cavolo nero sliced into 1/4-inch-wide ribbons (or use regular kale)

2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 pounds fusilli corti pasta

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot.

In a 14-inch saute pan, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until just softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the crumbled sausage and cook until no pink remains, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the fat from the pan and add the tomato sauce, 1 cup hot water, and the cavolo nero. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Set the pan aside.

Add the salt to the boiling water. Drop the fusilli corti into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle 1/4 cup of the cooking water into the pan containing the cavolo nero.

Drain the pasta in a colander and immediately add it to the cabbage mixture. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated. Pour into a warmed serving bowl, and serve immediately. Drizzle each serving with some of the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, and serve with the Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side. Serves 6 as a main course.

Per serving: 866 calories; 32 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 103 g carbohydrates; 13 g sugar; 35 mg cholesterol; 918 mg sodium; 26 g protein; 11 g fiber.