Many years ago, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to accompany a very good friend of ours on a trip to Italy. Florence would not only expose us to some beautiful art but it also happened to be near our friend’s sister's home. Our friend described her house as an old but refurbished farmhouse where she and her family pressed their own olive oil from their very own olive grove. Freshly pressed olive oil, as in Olio Nuovo? That was all I had to hear!
We piled into the Fiat and looked for signs to Case San Romolo Frazione di Bagno a Ripoli. Several winding and poorly lit roads later, we were facing an elaborate and impressive gate to the farmhouse. By then, it was dark, so I could not make out the façade of the house but it seemed reasonably sized and had electricity. So far, so good.
At the front door, we were greeted with kisses on both cheeks and glasses of homemade wine, made from grapes grown on their farm. All of a sudden, our friend's sister yells something out to her husband. He quickly excuses himself from the conversation and goes outside. We didn’t think much of it until he returned, dragging a hose from the outdoor garden into the kitchen. Apparently the water pump gave out. It was difficult to follow the explanation, but it had something to do with the elevation, usage and old systems.
Now that the kitchen was once again equipped with water, the room started to fill with scents of toasted bread and garlic. All of these aromas were tempting our nostrils. What could it be? Well, we had to wait… because then the lights went out! A little more yelling and a quick dash to a back room produced some light but not enough. Again, we were told that the elevation, usage and old systems were to blame.
When the hostess finally emerged from the kitchen holding two candles, clearly mortified, she informed us that dinner would not be exactly what she had in mind for us as the electrical “brown out” had affected her oven, so she only had a zuppa. We assured them that zuppa was all that we needed anyway. And we were not lying. Out came steaming bowls of vegetable broth with a floating slice of bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with cavolo nero. It smelled like heaven. The host went around and drizzled some of the family's Olio Nuovo over the zuppa. A monastic silence hung thick in the air as we dug in. We were speechless. It was amazing. Who knew that five simple ingredients could transport you to a different dimension? We managed to resist seconds, but that night we all went to bed happy and full.
Back in the States, as soon as I see cavolo nero at a farmer’s market, I start to crave this dish. Olio Nuovo begins to appear in November and it is well worth the wait. I hope you make this recipe and enjoy it as much as I do.
Zuppa with Cavolo Nero and Olio Nuovo
4 cups water or chicken stock
1 large bunch of cavolo nero, washed, large stem removed and cut into big bite-size pieces
4 large slices of day-old bread, approximately ¾” thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled, but whole
Olio Nuovo to drizzle
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat water or broth to boiling point. Add cavolo nero and cook until wilted and soft, approximately 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, toast bread slices until lightly browned. Rub raw garlic clove on warm bread and set aside. Once cavolo nero is cooked, remove from heat. Divide broth among 4 soup bowls, float 1 piece of “garlic bread” and top with cooked cavolo nero. Drizzle with Olio Nuovo, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Magda Gagliano is a chef and creator of a New York City-based cooking club, which offers a private chef service and small group cooking demonstrations. Find out more at CucinettaNYC.