This cavolo nero pesto recipe shows this unusual and delicious vegetable at its very best – great stirred through pasta, veggies or whole grains!
Fresh, homemade pesto is one of the greatest things you can add to a bowl of steaming, slippery pasta. Now for me, that has always meant basil pesto, but recently I experimented with another version of this glorious form – cavolo nero pesto.
If you’re not familiar with it, cavolo nero is a kind of cabbage (also known as Tuscan kale) which popular in Italy. It is not commonly used in the UK, but with the boom in Mediterranean food and the developing tastes of home cooks, I now see it popping up occasionally in various vegetable shops and supermarkets. It is one of my favourite kinds of cabbage. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love it some much, in comparison to other cabbages, but there is definitely something I find extra appealing. Perhaps it’s the deep, dark blue-green colour – almost black in places. Perhaps it’s the loose leaves – closer to kale than a head of cabbage. Or perhaps it’s that it’s twice as expensive as other cabbage and I’m just hoodwinked by its exotic nature. Whatever it is, I’m sold.
I usually tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and add them to my favourite winter minestrone soup about ten minutes before the end, but for some reason, one day I decided to explore this vegetable in purée form. A little cruise round the internet to check how others have approached making cavolo nero pesto confirmed to me that I would indeed need to partially cook the cavolo nero first, unlike blending raw as for most other pesto – glad I checked that first!
My research also confirmed that some kind of hard Italian cheese would be required. Parmesan was the obvious choice, but I chose to go with a salty, aged Pecorino Romano instead – one of my absolute favourite cheeses, where only a little is needed to go a long, delicious way.
As I am a huge fan of garlic (for both health and flavouring purposes), I opted for raw garlic. But you’re not so keen and would like to tame the bite a little, you could go for either blanched or roasted garlic and this cavolo nero pesto will still be mouth-wateringly scrumptious.
You can quite happily adjust the amount of olive oil in this sauce to your taste. In the recipe I have included the minimum you will need to blend the cavolo nero to a thick, smooth purée (as pictured), but pestos like this often have twice or even three times as much oil as I have listed, so if you want it a little looser, drizzle away!
Although the addition of cheese certainly helps the flavour of this cavolo nero pesto along, I was seriously surprised how tasty this vegetable was, with only some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic (yes, and cheese!) to enhance its natural deliciousness. It really is remarkable and will be making an appearance on my dinner table whenever I am lucky enough to get my hands on this enchantingly unusual, super healthy vegetable.
I usually toss this yummy cavolo nero pesto with spaghetti, cooked as I always do using the pasta absorption method so there is some luscious starch to thicken the sauce. But it has many other applications – smeared on bread to enhance a panini or veggie burger, stirred through roasted veggies, dolloped on whole grains. Anything that needs a vegetable-y, cheesy, garlicky lift.
Cavolo nero pesto
- 300 g cavolo nero
- 50 g cold-pressed olive oil or more as desired
- 75 g Pecorino Romano finely grated
- 1-2 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- salt to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon)
- lots of freshly ground black pepper I used about 1 teaspoon
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Remove the cavolo nero leaves from its stems - hold the bottom of the stem and strip the leaves away with your other hand. Blanch leaves for about 3 minutes, then drain.
Transfer the leaves to a food processor and blend together with the olive oil, adjusting as desired and scraping down if necessary, until the pesto is uniformly puréed. Add the Pecorino, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, altering the quantities to taste, blending again so it's thoroughly combined.
If you are stirring through pasta or veggies, add the pesto when the food it hot and let it heat through for a couple of minutes - this will soften the raw bite of the garlic and give the flavours a chance to properly meld. If you are using in smaller quantities on a burger or sandwich, this is less important as it functions more as a strong seasoning spread.