Recipes from the Farmers’ Market: Kale Gratin

Mmmmm, kale.  I actually didn’t know how much I loved kale until I tried a (different, but also amazing) kale gratin.  Then again, it makes sense that I would like it: everything’s better with cheese!! 

The first thing you need to know is how to chop kale.  First, wash it.  Then fold it in half lengthwise, front sides together.  Lay it on the cutting board, take a knife and cut out the big stem on an angle, so you get all the tough part.  Tear (or slice) the remaining 2 kale halves apart, lay them on top of each other and then cut them width-wise (crosswise) into bite-size-ish pieces.  (Bear in mind that they’ll shrink as they cook, so I tend to cut them kind of large.  Saves time!)  Throw the stems away (or if you’re like me, shove them in a bag in the freezer for making stock later because you paid way too much for them to throw the darn things out!).

So, with that in mind, here’s the recipe – this will serve 2-4 as a main course (depending on how hungry you are), or about 6 as a side dish.

2 bunches kale, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs Olive oil (you don’t need Extra Virgin for this, but if that’s all you have, by all means use it.)
2 Italian sausages (one sweet, one spicy), chopped (I had these in the freezer and needed to use them up!)
1 1/2 cups milk or half and half (I used raw milk, but I DON’T recommend it – see notes below)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

The Recipe
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray (or rub some olive oil in it).

Rinse the kale (if you haven’t already).  Put the pieces in a large bowl and microwave them for about a minute and a half.  Set aside. 

In a large pan over medium-high heat, saute the garlic and sausages in the olive oil until the sausages start to get a little crisp around the edges.  Reduce the heat to low and add milk, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the milk has reduced and thickened to about 1 cup (basically until it starts to look less like “milk” and more like “sauce”).  Add the kale and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese to the pot and stir to combine.  Pour the whole mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

How Did it Go?
Well.  It TASTED amazing.  But this time around, I think because I used raw milk instead of pasteurized milk, the sauce “broke” in the oven.  When I pulled it out and cut into it, there was water in the bottom of the pan.  And then I noticed some gloppy-looking bits of cheese.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I tasted it – AND IT WAS CURDS AND WHEY!!!  The milk had separated in the oven!  It tasted fine, it just looked . . . well, I wouldn’t serve it to company, ok?  But!  I have made variations of this recipe before, and know from experience that if you use pasteurized half-and-half (or 1 cup of heavy cream, and don’t reduce it), the sauce won’t break and it will be fantastic.  So there you go.  Don’t use raw milk in this.  😉

Also, I don’t blanch the kale first.  Most recipes call for you to cook the kale in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain it.  Mainly, this is to take the bitterness out, but winter kale is not as bitter as summer kale, and frankly, I don’t want to lose all those freakin’ vitamins to the cooking water.  Since I only make this in the winter (and I hear red kale is less bitter than green kale, but haven’t tried it myself yet), I just zap it.  If I were going to make this in the summer (although WHY?) I’d probably go ahead and boil the kale, because summer kale DEFINITELY has a bite to it, and I don’t think it would work in this recipe.

Finally, back to the sauce.  WEIRD!  I might try this again with raw milk, but I think I’d make a white sauce instead of relying on the milk not to break.  I seem to remember hearing from my grandma that a white sauce was a really hard thing to make, and if you could make it, it meant you were an accomplished cook, blah, blah, blah.  And the first time I made a white sauce I seriously didn’t get it.  I stood there thinking, “That’s it?  A BONEHEAD could do this.”  But now I’m wondering if what made it hard was getting the butter and flour into the milk efficiently enough to keep the sauce from breaking.  Maybe using raw milk vs. pasteurized milk is what makes the difference there?  Or really, to be more accurate, not necessarily PASTEURIZED milk, but HOMOGENIZED milk. 

See, when milk is homogenized, the process breaks up all  the butterfat molecules in the milk.  Those particles are reduced to teeny-tiny bits that don’t glom back together and re-form, but rather distribute themselves evenly through the milk.  (That’s why homogenized whole milk at your local market doesn’t have a cream line at the top.)  I’m guessing that’s what caused my sauce to break: all the butterfat and protein in the raw milk glommed together (“glom” being a highly technical term, here) to make the curds.  WEIRD, AGAIN.  One of these days I’ll have to try making a white sauce with raw milk and see if whisking the crap out of it makes a difference.

One of these days.  In the meantime, this goes squarely in the “exceptions” category, because homogenized/pasteurized milk is WAY easier here, ok?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Personally, I have never used raw milk, so can’t give you any insights. (I’m a pasteurized fan all the way, mostly because I’ve seen where cows teats have been….. but I’m sure dairy cows are different….. right?)
    I have also never tried kale. This recipe sounds so good, though, I might have to try it!
    I’ve never understood, either, what’s so difficult about white sauce. In all the years I’ve been making it, I’ve only had a problem once, and that was inattention on my part (but we won’t talk about that. Ever.)
    Gosh, according to this comment, there are a lot of things I don’t do. (I used “never” three times! Four, now.)


  2. LOL, I don’t know that dairy cows are any different, except that maybe they’re well-washed before milking!
    Kale’s amazing. I didn’t think I’d like it before, but now I eat it at least once a week!
    SEE?? That’s what I mean about the white sauce!! I think it might be harder with raw milk though – which of course, is how my grandmother’s mother would have made it, and that might explain why it was considered so hard to do.


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