Gjelina's Braised Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero)

Last weekend we ventured down to Venice for a GTA breakfast sandwich. This was a regular trek that had, like so many things, drifted out of the routine over the last few years. The soft English muffin with bacon, harissa hot sauce, fried egg, Gruyère, and braised kale exceeded my every hope and dream for that day.

Food bliss has a way of jogging the memory and I remembered having a half-written version of this post in the drafts folder. Replicating GTA's sandwich has been on the to-do list for a long while but I never got around to finishing that project -- no time like the present. Braised Tuscan Kale from the Gjelina cookbook is an essential element in the sandwich so that's where my journey begins. The greens are simmered gently with chicken (or ham) stock, smoky paprika, aromatics, and tomatoes before the sauce is reduced to further concentrate the flavors. This dish can confidently stand on its own and people who profess to not like kale will eat a plateful.

Similar to A.O.C.s Long-Cooked Cavolo Nero, I freeze Gjelina's braised kale since it's the kind of component that can really pull a meal together. Bundle the servings up in a single container and you can grab what you need with ease. I've seen pairing suggestions that include sausage, roasted chicken or turkey, lentil soup, Spanish potato tortilla, a variety of egg dishes, and of course the reason this post exists -- a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin. Sourdough English Muffin recipe and all the nooks and crannies coming soon.

Around the Dinner Table

While the Gettin's Good

Over the last few weeks, I've heard a number of growers remark that their brassicas and root vegetables are in peak form thanks to the cold weather. Lori of 2 Peas in a Pod said her brussels sprouts were the sweetest she can recall and Dawn of Flora Bella said the same about her broccoli. I gave the aforementioned vegetables a try and they were in fact excellent, but why? Am I just a suggestible person who gets excited and buys all the things when growers are enthusiastic? Yes, but there's more to it than that.

Winter Sweetening

Julia Tamai of Tamai Family Farms was on the KCRW Good Food Market Report several years back discussing the seasonality of beets. She said that customers often want the larger beets but it's the smaller sizes found in the cold season that taste the richest and sweetest. The larger beets tend to be starchier and more fibrous -- earthy is what comes to mind when thinking about warm-weather beets.

Vegetables get "stressed" in freezing temperatures and that's when their innate warning system sends the plants into action.

Over the course of the growing season, these vegetables store up energy in the form of starches. When temperatures start to drop, they convert the starches into sugars, which act as an anti-freezing agent for their cells. This change doesn't happen overnight, but as long as you pick your root vegetables sometime after the first frost of autumn, chances are good that they'll taste a lot sweeter than if you'd picked them in the summer. - Diane Diffenderfer

So, part of what's making the plants delicious is a survival mechanism that produces a kind of antifreeze -- just one of the many ways nature never ceases to be a wonder. Some additional vegetables that get sweeter with frost include: carrots, turnips, rutabagas, beets, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and most leafy greens.

The plan is to spend the next couple of months buying up the kale and petite beets to braise, pickle, blanch + freeze for when tomatoes, peppers, and peaches rule the land.

Original vs. Adapted


The dish benefits from a touch of spice so I toss a few árbol chiles into the pot. Chiles are listed as "optional" since the original recipe is delicious without the heat if that's not your jam.

Tomato Variations

I freeze tomatoes in a variety of forms from Tomato Confit to roasted and semi-dried. Gjelina calls for tomato confit but if that's not on hand I'll add finely chopped roasted tomatoes or a little more tomato paste. Tomato confit is always a great component to have on hand but I don't think it's necessary to make a special batch for the braised kale. And as mentioned above, the seasons don't exactly line up so making tomato confit at the same time that you're buying peak kale may not work out.

Types of Greens

I've made this recipe with rainbow chard and kale on separate occasions, the latter being my preference. Chard works fine but kale maintains a sturdier structure and stronger vegetal notes which are desirable with all of the other flavors. Younger rainbow chard can be cooked with the stems whereas the kale stems should always be removed.

Your cooking time will vary based on your greens and desired texture. Kale usually takes 15 to 20 minutes but chard takes less time, sometimes fewer than 10 minutes if it's on the delicate side.


The original recipe doesn't call for blanching but farmers market kale can sometimes be a little buggy. To thoroughly clean all of the bumpy grooves, I rinse then blanch the kale leaves (blanching for a minute), swoosh them around in an ice bath, then give everything a quick whirl in my trusty salad spinner. The only impact this has on the recipe is the kale will cook a touch faster. That said, it makes the cooking process pretty effortless when the kale is cleaned/blanched a day ahead. You could probably even freeze the blanched kale though I haven't done that.

Recipe Tips


This is a forgiving recipe but it's still helpful to consider weights when dealing with "bunches" of anything, in this case it's bunches of kale. This info is just a point of reference so there's no need to be exacting with the numbers.

The recipe below calls for about 2 pounds of kale. Though farmers market kale varies in size, 3 bunches is usually around 1 3/4 pounds (800 grams) to 2 pounds (900 grams) if the leaves are on the larger size. Some folks on the internet suggest a bunch of kale is 1 pound but that hasn't been my experience.

In terms of yield after prep, that can also vary but 1 pound of kale turns out roughly 7 1/2 ounces (215 grams) of leaves and 7 ounces (200 grams) of stems plus some waste. I blanch and freeze the stems for stir fry or rice bowls.


Homemade Chicken Stock is highly desirable in this dish and smoky ham stock is even better. I haven't tried using my Roasted Vegetable Stock but can't see why it wouldn't work if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

To make ham stock, I use the chicken stock recipe with smoked ham bones in lieu of chicken.

Kale Stems

The kale stems are usually discarded when making this recipe but since they taste similar to broccoli, I've been experimenting with ways to use them. The key is to blanch and cook the stems in a way that breaks down the fibrous texture. I haven't nailed a go-to recipe but here are my current tips if you want to make use of them:

  • Blanch until the stems are flexible but not entirely mushy inside.
  • Stir-frying is a solid cooking method for kale stems but it helps to cut them into 1-inch pieces. For one experiment, I used a Kinpira approach (stir fry then quickly simmer in a sugar/soy sauce blend) and left the stems whole because I had a grand vision for the presentation. The flavor was tasty but the whole stems had me looking like a cow whilst chewing.
  • Roasting didn't work out for me...maybe the heat was too low? If anyone has success with that I would love to hear about it.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

  • Coleman Family Farms // Cavolo Nero (Black Kale)
  • Finley Farms // Onion, Cavolo Nero (Black Kale)
  • Milliken Family Farms // Garlic, Onions

Kale at The Garden Of // Santa Monica Farmers Market


  • Salad Spinner - My salad spinner has been with me for years but I don't have a clue how it originally migrated into my life. I'm quite fond of the mystery spinner thanks to it being efficient and easy to use/clean. One might even say it spins me right 'round, baby, right 'round. The linked item is the same brand and seems to be an updated version with a stainless bowl that offers a 2-in-1 package. Spin the greens and then use the bowl to toss them with your dressing of choice. The string and handle mechanism is sensible since it means you don't have to pump or crank to get the salad to whirl around. There's a a non-stainless version as well.
  • Rösle Mandoline/Slicer - This tool has a beautiful design and is really easy to use and clean. It comes in handy for Pickled Red Onions, Gjelina's Spicy Sweet Pickles, and Superiority Burger's Sloppy Dave to name a few recipes. I recommend buying a replacement blade to have on hand though it was quite a while before I had to swap mine out.

My Favorite Cooking Tools - Spotlights the kitchen equipment I've owned and used for years from bread baking to coffee brewing.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds of cavolo nero kale (3 bunches) Note: I've also made this dish with rainbow chard. See Recipe Tips for additional notes on greens and timing.
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 6 medium cloves, thinly sliced on a mandoline Note: This is a little more than the original recipe suggests -- big garlic fan over here.
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste Note: My brand is Maria Grammatico.
  • 2 generous tablespoons Tomato Confit Note: See Recipe Tips for alternatives.
  • 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cups Homemade Chicken Stock
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more for any adjustments
  • Diamond kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 to 2 árbol chiles (optional)


  • Wash the kale thoroughly, trim the leaves away from the stems, and then tear the leaves roughly into 1-inch strips. I blanch the kale at this point but that's not a required step. See Recipe Tips.
  • Heat a Dutch oven over a medium flame for a few minutes then add the olive oil, onion, garlic, árbol chile (if using), a generous pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir everything together to coat then cook the onions until they're translucent (about 5 minutes). Keep an eye on the pot and stir occasionally to avoid browning the garlic.
  • Add the tomato paste, tomato confit, and smoked paprika. Stir and mash the tomato paste until very fragrant and the paste is starting to darken (about 3 minutes).
  • Add the chicken stock and red wine vinegar. As you stir, scrape up any bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a strong simmer and add the kale and a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss the greens to thoroughly coat and then keep tossing until they wilt slightly, a minute or two (unless the kale is blanched then you just need to coat it). Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until tender or to your liking (15 to 25 minutes). My personal preference is to maintain some tooth with the kale so I usually cook the kale for less than 20 minutes.
  • Remove the greens with a slotted spoon and leave as much sauce in the pot as possible. Now comes the flavor finale. Over medium-high heat, reduce the sauce until slightly thickened and pour any liquid that has accumulated under the greens back into the pot while this process is working. Pick the chiles out of the greens and discard.
  • Let the sauce cool then add it back to the greens. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Note: If you feel the dish needs more acid, add a touch more red wine vinegar or you could even use lemon juice if you want something that's less brash. I'm intentionally leaving lemon juice off the ingredients list since red wine vinegar does the job just fine.


I've kept the braised greens in the fridge for a couple of days but usually freeze it within a day.


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