You can eat it both raw and cooked, though raw kale can be quite bitter, so eat the young leaves where possible. You can also reduce the bitterness by adding a pinch of salt, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, and massaging into the leaves. Its similarity to silverbeet means you can use kale in recipes that call for the former.
Red winter kale leaves are rather beautiful, so a lovely addition to salads. They’re slightly ruffled and look a little like oak leaves, and their stalks are a stunning purple colour.
Cavolo nero, also known as Tuscan cabbage, has more slender leaves than curly kale and the leaf surface is quite bubbly. The leaves are best eaten when no more than 30cm, as the leaves can become bitter the longer it is grown. Cultivated in almost every backyard in Tuscany and has been at the heart of traditional farmer’s cooking for generations.
It is usually shredded and added to soups such as minestrone and the classic cannellini and vegie-based ribollita, stirred through risotto or pasta dishes or blanched, stuffed or braised.
Curly kale is the most common variety of kale and the variety you will most likely find in bunches at your supermarket or greengrocer. It has large dark green coloured leaves with ruffled curly edges, and a large firm fibrous stalk down the centre.
How to grow kale
A classic leafy green vegetable, kale is one of the easiest plants to grow. Plants will thrive in any average garden soil, either in full sun or very light shade, and will grow happily in pots, tubs or troughs.
• Plant kale seeds either in autumn for leafy greens through winter, or in spring for a warm-season crop. You’ll be able to pick leaves about seven to eight weeks after sowing. Harvest leaves as you need them, or cut the entire matured plant off at the base. Feed plants periodically with a soluble fertiliser to promote new growth.
• For seeds of curly leaved varieties, look for Yates Kale Edible or Kale Red Russian from Mr Fothergill’s. For the larger dark-leaved variety (also known as cavolo nero), seek out Kale Tuscan Black from The Diggers Club.
• For faster results, you can plant kale seedlings. The Oasis range includes Kale Tuscan, Kale Red Russian and Kale Winter Wonder, all of which are sold in Eziplanters containing six seedlings.