Cavolo nero and olive pasta
How do you make greens and tofu exciting?
Well, it was exciting for me, anyway. Mostly greens and tofu mean tofu, cubed, and some greens, stir fried, usually with plenty of soy sauce or some other kind of Asian-inspired sauce. Great, but not really the 500th time around, ya know? The thing is, tofu and greens are so good for you, and soooo cheap and easy to just toss together, that instead of abandoning the idea, I realised I could integrate it into a marvellous looking recipe I found in the New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook. Olives were used as the salty component, and cavolo nero (a kind of kale) as the non-slimy, nutritional powerhouse. The thing was, there was no obvious protein component and I didn’t want to cook something separate. So, instead of cooking tofu separately, I blended it into the cavolo nero “sauce” and the result was pesto in appearance but much milder in taste. The olives solved that problem nicely, adding little bursts of flavour. If olives aren’t your thing, you could easily substitute in some marinated mushrooms, or cubes of goat’s cheese, or sundried tomatoes that have been sitting in oil. Basically the sauce is quite versatile, and the tofu is sort of hidden in there so it doesn’t taste beany. Great for people who are new to tofu.
Cavolo nero and tofu pasta with olives, adapted from The New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook
serves two as dinner on its own
- 200g pasta shapes (I used penne)
- two large handfuls of small, tender cavolo nero leaves, stripped from the central stem, unchopped*
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed, not chopped
- about 50ml olive oil
- optional: 2 small dried chillies, crumbled**
- about 16 pitted kalamata olives***
- about 200-250g soft tofu, although you can use firm, just not super firm
- about 25g parmesan, finely grated, to serve (optional)
*Cavolo nero cannot be found at most supermarkets – I got mine at the farmer’s market, but if you can’t find any, then you could try another kind of kale or maaaaaybe spinach, but just cook the spinach for about thirty seconds, not ten minutes. Alternatively, grow your own! Kings Seeds and some Mediterranean food outlets will have them. They grow quite well in coldish climates too, which suits Christchurch well.
**I used a super nice, famous Chinese chilli sauce available at most Chinese-based Asian supermarkets. It has a picture of an oldish person in black and white, but the bottle is red. If using good quality chilli sauce, about 1/4 tsp should do.
***The best I’ve found are at Fresh Choice Merivale, in the International Food Section. The Mediterranean Food market also stocks it (they rightly have a sign saying “best pitted olives evar”…ok, something like that). The “brand” as far as I can discern is called “Jutez Oliva” and they are Greek. At around $7 for 720ml, these are the best value for taste I have found! I am willing to bet that even Jamie Oliver would approve (despite his past insistence that pitted olives are generally inferior…I think he was referring to green and those awful black olives that you can get)…and if you’re wondering what else to do with all these olives now acquired, aside from just eating them straight from the jar, this olive tapenade sounds fabulous.
Heat half a medium saucepan full of water for the pasta, then cook pasta according to packet instructions, during down time between the steps below.
Cook cavolo nero leaves and garlic in a medium-large deep frypan, just covered in salted water, on medium heat, covered, until the leaves are softened (about 5-10 minutes) and you can easily chew through the spine of the leaf. Add water during cooking to keep immersed. Drain the cooking water, reserving about one cup for the sauce later (I tried to only have 1c of cooking water). Set aside garlic, squeeze cavolo nero lightly to remove excess water and chop roughly. Heat a Tbs of the olive oil in the same frypan on medium heat and cook the garlic and chilli until the garlic starts to become fragrant. Add the cavolo nero and cook on an even layer until the greens are coated in oil.
Reduce heat to low, and take half the leaves out along with all of the garlic (with tongs!). Puree with the cooking water, tofu and remaining olive oil, until smooth. Return to pan with chopped cavolo nero and add olives. Stir, and serve over drained, cooked pasta. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan to serve.