Pasta with cavolo nero, garlic and chilli

The first snowdrops are blooming in our tiny backyard this week and I’m looking ahead toward spring and the start of the growing season, which no longer feels so far away. The time is now to begin finishing  up some of the remaining cavolo nero crop that has seen us through winter.

This recipe is inspired by the pasta suppers in Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters cookbook and dinners out at as Salvo’s Salumaria in Leeds. They use vegetables like sprout and turnip tops and other hearty winter greens to great effect. ‘Overcooking’ certain vegetables is something Roddy has a lot to say about and I agree wholeheartedly. I think we’ve been over conditioned in the UK to break from the boiled cabbage traditions of time gone past and in the process forgotten to realise what depth and earthiness thoroughly cooked vegetables like those mentioned above can bring.

The spruce and sparkle that a lightly blanched winter green can bring mellows with longer cooking into earthy richness. The fresher flavours lost can then be replaced by the judicious use of strong counterparts like garlic, lemon, anchovy and good olive oil. As with so much of the best Italian cooking I’m using just a few simple ingredients, this means they must be of the highest quality. Trofie pasta is available from delis and good supermarkets but you could also use a small penne or orcchiette instead.

Whatever you use, seek out a good source of dried pasta, made in copper presses and air dried. It will have a major impact on the results of this dish and far exceed the results born from supermarket ‘fresh’ pasta, which I would only use for lasagne.

dried chilli, lemon, garlic paste, cavolo nero and trofie


(serves 2)

  • 100g cavolo nero
  • 170g trofie pasta
  • 2 good quality anchovy fillets
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • olive oil for cooking
  • black pepper
  • sea salt
  • good olive oil for dressing
  • pecorino romano

Trofie with cavolo nero, lemon and chilli

  1. Bring a large casserole pot to the boil and season with 1 tsp ground sea salt.
  2. Add the cavolo nero whole and cook for 6-9 minutes. You want the vegetable to cook until properly tender, when a stalk held at it’s thickest end droops fully when lifted from the water with tongs. Remove the cabbage with a slotted spoon and refresh in iced water or under a cold tap. Slice thinly.
  3. Heat a heavy based pan over a medium flame and add enough oil to generously coat the bottom. Grind the garlic to a paste with oil and sea salt using the flat side of a knife. Add this paste to the pan with the anchovy and chilli and stir. Once the fish have melted and the garlic smells sweet add the cabbage and lemon and toss to coat in the oil. Turn the heat down and simmer gently this for about 20 minutes.
  4. Add the pasta to the used cabbage water and boil for approx 9 minutes until tender but retaining a ‘bite’.
  5. Add 1 tbsp grated pecorino, a drizzle of good olive oil and beat with a spoon to evenly distribute the cabbage.
  6. Serve into heated bowls and sprinkle with further pecorino and a further splash of good oil.
  7. FullSizeRender-1.jpg
    caution: be careful with any sea salt you add to the cabbage pot. The anchovy, pecorino and pasta cooking water will all provide a salty finish

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