Winter Greens Gratin

Winter Greens Gratin  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Winter Greens Gratin | Image: Laura Messersmith

It’s easy in the frenzy of holiday preparations to get caught up in more, more, more – more butter, more options on the sideboard, more going crazy trying to make everything perfect. I’ve been trying to resist being caught in that trap this year and focus instead on less. Not less care, just redirecting my effort into singular dishes that make a meal feel special. If it can be made ahead leaving more time on Thanksgiving Day for watching parades, playing board games and hanging with my family; even better.

This Winter Greens Gratin fills the bill on all accounts, but I won’t lie – it does take a voluminous amount of fresh kale and mustard greens, like possibly all the kale in Brooklyn. It’s a little intimidating at first, but slowly the mountain is tamed down to a manageable amount and then stirred together with cream steeped with garlic and thyme. Thankfully (intentional pun alert!) ninety percent of the prep can be done a day or two ahead and then layered in a baking dish to find it’s way into the oven at the appropriate moment. Mischief managed.

Winter Greens Gratin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Winter Greens Gratin | Image: Laura Messersmith

Winter Greens Gratin (serves 8-10)

3 pounds (2 large bunches) lacinato kale
2 1/2 pounds (2 medium bunches) mustard greens
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided, plus 7 sprigs thyme
1 cup (2 large) thickly sliced shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter plus more for dish
2 cups half and half
7 garlic cloves, smashed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes.

Wash the kale and mustard greens carefully to remove any sand. Strip the leaves from the stalks and roughly chop in large pieces keeping the two types of greens separate.

Working in batches, drop 3-4 generous handfuls of the chopped kale into the boiling water. Use tongs to stir the leaves and cook for about 3 minutes. Transfer the kale with the tongs into the bowl of ice water and let cool for 1 minute. Remove the leaves from the ice water with your hands and squeeze as much water as possible from the leaves. Set aside on a cutting board, and repeat the process until all the kale is cooked.

Repeat the same process with all the mustard greens, cooking in the boiling water for 2 minutes per batch. Coarsely chop all the greens; you should have 6 cups tightly packed leaves. Discard the ice water and combine the kale and mustard greens in the bowl by loosening with your fingers. Set aside, or refrigerate in a food storage container.

Next prep the bread crumbs and cheeses in a mini food processor. Heat oil in a deep, 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl allow to cool for a few minutes, then stir in Parmesan and 1 teaspoon thyme leaves. Set aside, or store in an airtight food storage container at room temperature.

***Greens and breadcrumbs can be made up to 2 days ahead.

To prepare the sauce, wipe out the skillet and melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until slightly softened and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer shallots to the bowl with greens.

Add half and half, garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs to same skillet; bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 10-12 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and garlic cloves; stir in nutmeg. Season the mixture with kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Pour the sauce over greens in bowl and toss with a fork to evenly coat the greens and shallots in the cream.

Lightly butter a 3 quart baking dish and spread the greens mixture into the dish. Sprinkle with the grated Gruyère, then top with the toasted breadcrumbs. Cover the dish with foil.

***Gratin can be assembled 1 day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until filling is hot, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-20 minutes until cheese is melted, edges are bubbling, and breadcrumbs are golden brown. Garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves.

Lightly adapted and re-written from Bon Appétit’s Winter Greens Gratin.

Winter Greens Gratin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Winter Greens Gratin | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
A challenge to your small kitchen cooking skills, but doable if you clear the decks before starting. I used a large sauce pan, a deep sauté pan, a mini-food processor, two large bowls, a medium baking dish, and a large cutting board. A pair of tongs, measuring spoons, a chef’s knife, microplane grater, a rubber spatula, and foil will round out the kit. Food storage containers will make life easier and save the need for both bowls.

The Verdict:
Winter Greens Gratin blends the best of creamed spinach with the crisp topping and sharp tang of homemade mac and cheese. The proportion of greens to dairy is perfect and as a result the herbaceous flavor of the kale and mustard greens is highlighted, not masked by the garlic-y cream sauce and cheeses. The toasted breadcrumbs add a little crunch and texture. I made this as a contribution to a Friendsgiving dinner last weekend and the emptiness of the baking dish told the tale. No one will have to be reminded to eat their greens with this gratin on the table.

Winter Greens Gratin   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Winter Greens Gratin | Image: Laura Messersmith