Better Than Kale? Yes!

Always on the lookout for cold-hardy, richly-flavored greens, and a sucker for anything billed as “popular in southern Italy”, I tried a new one this year.

Spigariello liscia in early October. The plants have set a few buds that quickly opened to flowers, but it’s the leaves I’m after!

The dusky blue leaves are soft like a puppy’s ear. Ready for steaming, braising, soups or stir fries.

Remove the leaf’s center rib — it’s as easy as removing the string from a sugar snap pea. The rib’s toughness detracts from the delicate texture of the leaves.

I’m a big kale fan. Though I’ll eat almost any kind, cooked almost any way, I grow only one variety, the beautiful (and delicious) lacinato which is also called black kale, toscano and cavolo nero.

Always on the lookout for cold-hardy, richly-flavored greens, and a sucker for anything billed as “popular in southern Italy”, I tried a new one this year: spigariello liscia. Johnny’s Seeds described it as a leaf broccoli, similar to broccoli raab.

I spent most of the summer waiting for it to make little heads like broccoli raab. All the while it was growing and growing and growing. By mid-August most of the plants were well over 4 feet tall and still hadn’t thought about putting out any buds.

It was on Bronwyn Weaver and Bob Archibald’s amazing farm, Heritage Prairie that I finally learned what this plant is all about. The farm is located about 40 miles west of Chicago in Elburn, IL. Its market garden provides vegetables for many Chicago-area restaurants and several farmers markets, including Chicago’s Green City Market and the Geneva Green Market. For 2010 they’re also adding a CSA. There’s a market on-site where you can buy the farm’s in-season vegetables, as well as pre-made dinners and all sorts of locally-produced foods including cheeses and eggs, beef, chicken, pork, and honey from Bronwyn’s bees. The farm hosts weddings and other special events, too.

While on a tour of the greenhouses and fields with farm manager Ted Richter, we passed a of row greens that I immediately recognized as spigariello liscia. Ted said that like me, he’d tried it on a lark and it had proven to be extremely popular with some of Chicago’s best chefs. He said it’s all about the leaves, not the buds (ah!) and showed me how they harvest it by stripping the leaves off the stalks. Though the leaves have a flavor similar to kale, they are much more tender than kale, with a felt-like texture.

So I came home and began using my own spigariello liscia. Move over, kale.

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3 Responses to Better Than Kale? Yes!

  1. Gardenatrix says:

    Sounds great – thanks for the tip!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I keep my garden organic so if something just doesn't grow here without pesticides I just don't grow it. My broccoli was wonderful this year but not exactly vegetarian if you know what I mean…is there some way to coax out those little green wiggly dudes before I cook the broccoli? I've tried extensive washing and soaking in salt water and it helps some but not enough. Any suggestions before I give up on growing broccoli???

    Thanks!

  3. Don't give up!
    Try breaking and/or cutting the head into relatively small sections before soaking it in a bowl of salty water. Instead of soaking, I usually just tap the small pieces on the cutting board. The worms fall right out.
    In the garden, you can also keep worms from reaching the broccoli by covering the plants with garden fabric. I find this works pretty well, though it isn't a 100% solution.

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