When it comes to Thanksgiving I’m “all about the sides”. Now don’t get me wrong, we had three turkeys for Thanksgiving, roasted, grilled and smoked, all cooked to perfection by my hubby. No fried turkey this year, we tried it one Thanksgiving and the combination of a deep fryer and a windy day on a wooden deck made for an interesting and potentially dangerous afternoon.
I love fall vegetables, a variety of interesting winter squashes, beautiful brassicas and hearty root vegetables all appear at our table. In previous years I would make myself crazy with last minute preparations for a half dozen complicated side dishes before we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. Now I like to roast a combination of root vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and supplement them with some other interesting sides.
If I am at home in the early afternoon I will occasionally turn on “The Chew”, a television program that has been described as “The View” for foodies. The panel includes among others, star chef, restauranteur and cookbook author, Mario Batali, and it was Mario’s recipe this day that caught my attention, Creamy Kale Gratin.
We are not newcomers on the ever expanding kale bandwagon. Joe has been growing it in the fall for quite a few years, before it achieved it’s current celebrity status. This year’s crop was abundant. He grew both the Red Russian variety with it’s reddish purple stems and curly leaves and the Lacinato or dinosaur kale with crinkly long dark green leaves. What most people don’t know is that after the first frost, kale becomes sweeter and could easily convert the most die hard kale hater.
Today’s episode was titled potluck party, focusing on dishes you could bring to a Thanksgiving dinner and I’m sure this dish would be a hit at any potluck meal, Thanksgiving or otherwise. Mario compared this dish to steakhouse creamed spinach, only made with kale. Mario had the assistance of actress Katherine Heigl, best known for her Emmy winning role on Grey’s Anatomy. Her job, along with promoting her new television series, was to chop some of the kale while Mario made the Bechamel sauce. I saw that chef Michael Symon was at the ready, most likely in case the task was too much for her to handle. I noticed she did a fine job, Michael said with a bit of surprise that she did a good job and Mario commented on her “mad skills”. She explained that she played a cook in one of her movies (Life As We Know It; I checked) and they taught her to properly chop. She refered to it as a hidden talent, one of those things you learn as an actor.
The kale leaves are roughly chopped to the stem. Twenty cups may seem like a large quantity but like all greens, they cook down quickly. Rather than putting the stems in the trash, Mario puts the stems in half full pickle jars and snacks on them the next day. The kale is cooked in a large sautepan until wilted, it will cook fully when it is combined with the cheese sauce and croutons. A layer of croutons is placed on the bottom of a large buttered gratin dish. The next layer is the kale combined with the very cheesy sauce seasoned with freshly ground nutmeg. The remaining croutons are layered on top.
Either variety of kale is suitable for this recipe. From my observation of the video it looks like they used a curly variety, I used the darker Lacinato with long crinkly leaves. I prepped my dish the day before, stopping before sprinkling the croutons with olive oil, salt and pepper. I brought the dish to room temperature the next day, finished the final steps and baked the gratin. The last dilemma the Chew tackled was how do you eat the bread bit? Fork and knife is fine but if you want to pick it up like a crostini, that’s just fine too. We all enjoyed the gratin, a delicious way to enjoy one of the final offerings of the fall garden.
Creamy Kale Gratin
- 20 cups Russian or Lacinato kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
- 1 loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 6 T butter, and additional butter for the baking dish
- 1/2c shallots, sliced
- 1t red pepper flakes
- 1/4c all purpose flour
- 1 1/2c milk
- 1 1/2c heavy cream
- 8oz grated gruyere cheese
- 8oz grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1/2c crème fraiche
- 1/2c Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
- 1/2t freshly grated nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 400°F
- Preheat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the kale and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until wilted about 4 minutes. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a separate heavy bottomed pot (think Le Creuset) , melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook the flour mixture for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Slowly pour in the milk and cream and whisk to combine. Continue to cook,, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the béchamel sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat. Add in the cheeses and whisk until smooth. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved kale mixture.
- Butter a large gratin baking dish. Lay an even layer of the read slices in the bottom of the gratin dish. Pour the creamy kale over the bread. Top the casserole with the remaining bread slices, placing them tightly together. Season the bread with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.