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Couve Tronchuda

Produce of the Week - Couve Tronchuda
sponsored by Coleman Farms

We tend to associate the Kales with Autumn and Winter, and most Kales are at their best in cooler weather. However, Couve Tronchuda ('Tronchuda', here), or Portuguese Kale, is coming to market now in peak form. This variety of Kale is less cold-tolerant than its near relations the Cabbages and other Kales, but, locally at least, it can be planted to come into production in mid-Spring, when the other Kales are getting a bit seedy.

The morphology of the Kales varies considerably from one variety to another - we need only compare Lacinato to Scots Kale. Couve Tronchuda looks at first glance a lot like Collards. But the Tronchuda leaf is rounder paddle shaped Collard and Tronchuda is a slightly bluish-green, while Collards tend more toward yellowish-green. And the ribs, or main veins of Tronchuda are quite prominent, giving it the varietal name 'costata' or 'ribbed'. One source describes Tronchuda as transitional between the Kales and Cabbage, and this is a useful description. Tronchuda produces separate leaves along a heavy stalk, like other Kales, but the leaves themselves are structurally and in color quite like the outer leaves of a green Cabbage, flattened out.

The similarity carries over to taste and texture. Tronchuda produces a much fleshier leaf than the other Kales, with a relatively thick blade and heavy veins or stalks which are tender enough to be easily edible - like those of Cabbage rather than the Kales. The flavor of Tronchuda falls somewhere between that of a Kale like Scots or Russian and that of Cabbage, with some of the asperity of the former and less of the mustard or sulphur sometimes found in Cabbage.

The 'traditional' use for Tronchuda (search "portuguese kale") is in a soup with beans and sausage, where, like the other Kales, the sturdy leaf holds up under prolonged cooking and provides flavor to the broth and color and texture to the soup. But it's easy to think of other uses. Earlier columns have suggested using the Kales with pasta. The heavier leaf of Tronchuda gives it body similar to that of the chunkier pastas, so that it can play a similar structural role to the pasta in a mixed dish, rather than acting as a topping, as in this recipe which combines Tronchuda, penne, diced potato, a couple of kinds of cheese, tomato puree and mortadella sausage (made into tiny meatballs). The Tronchuda is washed and dried, then sauteed in oil, with the potato, tomato and garlic for about twenty minutes. This makes the base of the 'sauce', for the pasta and Mortadella balls, if you use them. And Tronchuda could be substituted for cabbage in most cooked dishes.

The roundish, flexible but sturdy Tronchuda leaf is perfectly suited to 'wrapping', taking the place of a pita bread or tortilla. We suggest blanching first, to aid digestibility, unless you're going to fill the leaves and then cook filling and leaf together.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Farms

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