Kale has become so beloved and for good reason. It's versatile, packed with vitamins, and grows easily. But Tuscan kale, in particular, is revered because it's less bitter than other varieties and therefore is equally good raw or cooked. As a green veggie from the cabbage family, it's found in cuisine all over the world, but this one, as its name indicates, has a strong Italian identity.
What Is Tuscan Kale?
Tuscan kale goes by many names: lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, black kale, and Italian kale. In fact, it is most prevalent in Tuscany; in Italian, it's called cavolo nero (black cabbage).
Although it's a type of cabbage, black kale doesn't form round, compact heads but instead, the leaves are long and resemble palm fronds, with pronounced ribs. The leaves are bumpy like dinosaur skin, with a sweet, almost banana-like aroma and can grow up to a yard long.
From a cooking perspective, its leaves are more tender, less bitter, and easier to work with than its curly-leafed counterparts. Prepping kale for eating and cooking is easy. Run it under cold water, and you can either remove the leaves from the ribs or keep them intact; they're edible and not nearly as woody as in other kales. Simply remove the leaves by slicing the knife along the rib that runs up the middle.
How to Cook With Tuscan Kale
Anywhere you'd want to cook with sturdy, dark leafy greens, Tuscan kale is welcome. Even after cooking, it keeps its firm texture. Many recipes will call for cutting the leaves into strips.
That being said, you can eat it raw in salads, and whereas most other kale types are tougher and therefore benefit from getting a "massage" beforehand, with black kale you don't necessarily need to. It's a staple in the Italian winter soup, ribollita, and it's easy to sauté it in olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon juice as a quick, healthy side dish. It's sturdy enough to withstand being braised, too.
Kale leaves can also be used as wrappers: Blanch them briefly in lightly salted water, then use them to wrap whatever filling you have in mind.
What Does It Taste Like?
With a slightly bitter taste and slightly sweet aroma, Italian kale has a more complex taste but a milder flavor than its curly kale counterparts. It's earthy and slightly nutty.
Tuscan Kale Recipes
The possibilities for kale are limitless. Add it to quiches, top it on pizzas, toss it into soup at the last minute—it's so incredibly easy to use. Turn it into pesto or use it in a room temperature dish with another nutritional superstar, quinoa. Its surge in popularity in recent years, in addition to its pure abundance on farms and in community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, helped spawn the invention of kale chips, a quick and nutritious snack you make in the oven.
Where to Buy Tuscan Kale
Most grocery stores stock several varieties of kale, Tuscan included. Look for leaves that are sturdy and evenly dark green, blue-black, or green-black, without any signs of wilting or yellowing around the edges. Stay away from overgrown bunches with leaves longer than a foot—they are usually tougher and less flavorful. (The smallest, most tender leaves are often tucked on the inside of the bunch.)
Tuscan kale is typically a crop that appears during cooler weather, but it's such a darling of farmers markets, CSAs, health food stores, and stores selling natural and organic produce, that you can easily and increasingly find it all year round.
Store Tuscan kale for a day or two in the crisper section of the refrigerator, with the stem end wrapped in a moist paper or cloth towel to keep it from drying out. Don't wash it until you plan to cook it because it may go limp.
It also freezes well. Simply remove the ribs, cut the leaves crosswise into strips about 1/2-inch wide, and blanch in salted boiling water. Drain and rinse in cold water; then squeeze the water out and freeze the leaves in quart-size freezer bags, flattening them out to about 3/4 of an inch thick and laying them on a metal tray for quick freezing. This works well in soups or reheated in broth and served over toasted bread.
Nutrition and Benefits
One cup of Tuscan kale contains considerable amounts of vitamins K, A, and C, with lesser but still significant amounts of manganese, copper, fiber, calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, and many other nutrients.