In the winter months you always get the most fantastic cabbage called cavolo nero. It originates from Tuscany but grows very well here. It can be brought in most supermarkets these days, but I remember when no one had even heard of it. After a weekend trip to Tuscany, Rose Gray from the River Cafe came in to the kitchen bright and early on a Monday morning, full of inspiration from her little trip and showed me a paper bag with these tiny black seeds in it. When I asked her what they were, she set off telling me explicitly about how she had brought these seeds and was going to give them to her friend Adam Barker-Mill, who owned a farm near Southampton called Sunnyfields, and he was going to plant the seeds and supply the River Cafe with them. Well, 12 months later he did and still does.
I remember a trip to Carmignano in Tuscany when we visited the brilliant winery Cappezzana. The Contini Bonacossi family have owned the property since 1920 and over this time have built a reputation for great wine and olive oil.
The family are amazingly hospitable and will always put on a fantastic meal for their guests. I remember one meal when we had the most delicious assortment of anti pasti that featured the newly pressed olive oil. It was all delicious but as usual I was looking forward to my favourite course, the pasta.
We were all given a small plate with fresh pappardelle with a dark green sauce the coated almost every part of the yellow pasta.
The sauce was a purée of cavolo nero with lots of spicy green new season's olive oil stirred into it. Well I have to say it was one of the most brilliant pasta sauces I have ever tasted and since eating it, I have made it many many times.
I love it with fresh pappardelle but you can use farfalle or penne rigate.
Serves four starter portions or two as a main coursea
3 bunches of cavolo nero
3 garlic cloves, peeled
100ml of new seasons olive oil
250 g fresh pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated parmesan, to serve ( optional)
Blanch the cavolo Nero and garlic cloves in plenty of boiling salted water for about five mins, until the garlic is tender. Remove the cavolo nero from the pan with a slotted spoon but keep the water. Put the cabbage and garlic in a blender or food processor and blitz with enough of the cooking water to give a thick, smooth purée (be careful not to add too much water). Season with salt and pepper and then mix in the olive oil. Transfer to a frying pan and keep slightly warm.
Cook the pappardelle in a large pan of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, until al dente. Take the pasta out with a pair of tongs and add to the warm frying pan with the cavolo nero sauce. Add a few tblsp of the pasta water and gently cook on the stove. Toss as the sauce slightly reduces, so the starch from the pasta starts to emulsify the sauce. Check the seasoning and serve in hot pasta bowls with a drizzle of new season's oil on top. You can serve with parmesan but it tastes so good it's also good without it.