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Cavolo Nero and Celeriac Mash

October 15, 2002

I have long been a fan of Italian food. A few years back a friend and I attended night classes in Italian cooking while our respective spouses attended a wine appreciation course. Hard to say who had the most fun.

There were 24 of us in the cooking class and we split up into groups of four, each group making a couple of dishes from a particular region of Italy. At the end of the evening we'd sit together at a long table and share the dishes we'd made, discussing the relative merits of each, how easy or difficult they were to prepare. And we'd drink a little wine to aid the digestion!

Some people came along to the class expecting to make pasta and sauce dishes. They soon discovered pasta swimming in sauce was not what they were there to make. Often the pasta had surprisingly little sauce. They also found there is much more to Italian cooking than pasta.

Others ducked for cover when anchovies were mentioned. They didn't fancy them or indeed loathed them. They wouldn't touch them. At the end of an evening's sampling they were often surprised to find they'd been eating anchovies but that these poor defenceless little fish had indeed just melted down into the other ingredients, adding little more than a subtle flavour.

On my recent return to Wellington I was pleased to discover a fine Mediterranean Food Warehouse (http://medifoods.co.nz) had opened in my absence. It had sprung out of a business I had previously dealt with for olive oil and wine vinegars. The Spouse and I spent a pleasant hour wandering around the warehouse recently. We should really have started with a trolley. The basket we'd picked up at the door was soon full.

He drooled over the roasted artichokes. I checked out the herbs and balsamic vinegars. Then there were the wines, the cheeses, the salami, the pasta, the baking. We came away laden down with several bags of goodies.

Appropriately, as mentioned last week, we had some cavolo nero or black Tuscan kale on the menu at home that night. I'd bought it the previous day along with some celeriac.

Many of the recipes I found for cavolo nero suggested braising the vegetable so this is how I prepared ours.

Cavolo Nero Braised with Leeks

Cavolo nero
1/2 leek, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons each freshly chopped Italian parsley and oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper
a good quality balsamic vinegar

Rinse the kale (1) and remove the ends of the stalks. If the stalks are thick, you can remove these too. Finely shred the leaves and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a large pan and saute the leeks and garlic until tender. Don't allow the garlic to burn or it will become bitter.

Add the cavolo nero to the pan (2) and turn it over several times to coat it with the oil. Season with salt and pepper and add about half a cup of water. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the leaves are tender. By then most of the water will have evaporated.

Sprinkle over a few drops of balsamic vinegar, toss and serve. (3)

Celeriac mash

1 large root of celeriac
3 medium floury potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
ground white pepper

Peel and dice the celeriac and the potatoes. Place in a saucepan and barely cover with water. Add the salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender.

Drain off the liquid. Add the butter and mash with a potato masher or blending wand until smooth. Season with a little white pepper.


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