Real Men Sow

I Love Cavolo Nero I Do

When I was debating What Not to Grow for 2013, Alan from Its Not Work, Its Gardening!, suggested that along with my everyday stuff, I should grow something new every year. This comment, together with a good harvest at the weekend, has prompted me to write a post declaring my undying love for 2012’s experiment.

Ladies and Gentleman, I love Cavolo Nero.

Cavolo Nero is an Italian leafy green, and used widely in many staple Italian meals. Up until this year, I’d never heard of it – probably largely due to the veg not being particularly readily available in the UK. Apparently you can find a few leaves in Waitrose, but that’s your lot most of the time.

Cavolo Nero is very similar to kale, another vegetable I adore, and it shares many of the qualities that make kale so awesome to grow.

Hardy and Dependable
The plant is extremely hardy, and will last through the worst that most British winters can throw at it. That means that when the plot is bare, Cavolo Nero is there, still providing fresh greens for the dinner table

The best thing about Cavolo Nero is the slight sweetness of the leaves. During winter, they’re a welcome contrast to the other wintery greens available, like cabbage and kale. I was genuinely surprised by the delicious taste when I tucked into my first leaves.

In Italy, Cavolo Nero gets used in all sorts of meals, from soups to salads, and also as a complement for meat and fish dishes. We’ve put the leaves in stir fries, this warming Thai chicken noodle soup, and simply boiled them to go with a meal.

Cavolo Nero contains vitamins B, K, A and C, fibre, calcium and iron. I’m not entirely sure what they all do, but I’m told its all good for you…

Cavolo Nero Looks Amazing
I’ll happily admit I’m a function over appearance kind of growing guy, but I can appreciate an attractive veg when I see one. Cavolo Nero is definitely a looker, with its deep green, crumply leaves. I’d even go as far as saying that a plant like this wouldn’t look out of place in a decorate bed.

Easy to Grow
I’ve found Cavolo Nero easy to grow this year. I sowed seeds into small pots of multi purpose compost in April, and planted out onto the open plot during May. There wasn’t much else to it. The plants didn’t require huge amounts of water and interestingly didn’t succumb to the whitefly as much as the other brassicas around it.

Like Alan, I do love to try a new variety or vegetable each year, and my Cavolo Nero has really confirmed this. Discovering this vegetable has brightened up both my plot and my kitchen, and is now a permanent fixture on the What Definitely To Grow 2013 list.


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  1. SarahNovember 29, 2012 at 9:29 pmReply

    I bought some posh Cavolo Nero seeds and then LOST them (managed to keep hold of the six packets of Wilko’s peas of course, not that there’s anything wrong with them, but you know.) My initial experience of kale was from the supermarket. It was horrible – tough and bitter. I was just about put off for life despite being in general a vegophile (which sounds a bit wrong but you know what I mean), but my mate cooked me some cavolo nero from her garden (with some other stuff as well as it happens) and it was LOVELY! Is it not actually Kale then? I know (or rather think) it means black cabbage…?

  2. Jono

    JonoNovember 29, 2012 at 9:39 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Sarah, thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about the supermarket stuff. We’ve just had it with some fish – wife cooked some leeks in butter, chucked in the cavolo nero with a good glug of white wine and frozen peas. Was awesome, best way we’ve eaten it so far.

  3. Mark NNovember 30, 2012 at 9:36 amReply

    Used to grow this many years ago but found the whitefly too much of a problem :(

  4. Claire BensonDecember 1, 2012 at 10:14 amReply

    Hi Jono

    I grow it as kale in square metre gardening method. I plant them a couple of inches a part so they gon’t grow big and you get the lushest small leaves you can eat as cut and come again all winter long. I chuck them into winter fritatta’s and you don ‘t need to precook them.

    They do look beautiful plant spaced out too / definitely an ornamental veg :)

    I tried to plant some kavalo nero in my new patch this year but sadly the seeds didn’t take. So I’ve planted some elephant garlic there instead.

    I did plant some HSL kale and kohl Rabi which are doing well and should plug the kavalo Nero gap instead.

  5. TimDecember 1, 2012 at 3:28 pmReply

    So what will 2013′s experiment be? I’m thinking I might try some Kai Lan.

  6. AdamDecember 27, 2012 at 9:28 pmReply

    This is one I will definitely be trying this year. If anything they just look fantastic!

    • Jono

      JonoDecember 27, 2012 at 9:49 pmReplyAuthor

      Definitely recommend trying it Adam. ‘Bright lights’ chard are a similar veg and look great too.

  7. TobyOctober 21, 2013 at 11:26 pmReply

    Nice blog mate – I’m a Brit living in Sydney Australia it can be pretty difficult to get hold of a decent variety of veggies here, which has encouraged me to start growing for my family, even though we’re in a very urban apartment. Pots and hydroponics thats the way I’m going.

    I have got 9 Cavolo seedlings in trays right now. Cant wait to see them grow. Most will go in tubs but 4 will go into my Hydroponics system as an experiment. I did the same with the Chard bought from the nursery a 3 weeks back and in that time the hydro Chard has left the soil based Chard for dead more than double the size already. The soil is a home mix of worm castings and coconut coir which makes a geat starter. Even so the hyro plants just go crazy, you should try it out.

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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