A Series of Sides: Collard Green Gratin with Meg
One Monday morning a few weeks ago, my friend Meg and I arrived at work saying to each other in unison, “did you see the new issue of Bon Appetit”? Our mouths watered over practically every page with delights like Salt and Pepper Biscuits, Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon-Parsley Dressing and…Introducing Your Thanksgiving Menu to Duck Fat (shut up!). The following Monday morning, Meg let me know she made the Collard Green Gratin. And you didn’t bring me any??!! She brought it to a friend’s dinner party, bless her heart. Oh, and of course she tweaked it just a bit.
I knew I had to try this on for size and also was curious to see if it would hold up to freezing. I might have a Thanksgiving and/or make ahead side dish on my hands here! This would be a great opportunity to expand my green-making repertoire. I’ve cooked with spinach for years, introduced myself to kale last year, and the rainbow chard from my garden was definitely a success. 3 for 3 so far.
The ham and breadcrumb mixture can be made ahead. I tested making (and baking) the entire recipe in advance and then freezing it. A week later I reheated it and it was fantastic: it tasted like it was just made and all the colors and textures held up to being frozen and reheated. I had to really work hard to stop eating it. 4 for 4.
Meg’s Variations: Meg is very adventurous with recipes and the queen of tweaking to use what she already has on hand. For this recipe, she substituted the coarse, fresh breadcrumbs with 3/4 Cup plain panko and the prosciutto with canadian bacon.
Meg also used the sauce recipe (bechamel) for a Mac and Cheese! She added cheddar cheese, onion and red pepper flake to the sauce, mixed with cooked pasta, then baked in the oven with more breadcrumbs and cheese on top. I’m in!
Since we’re talking about side dishes, try this fresh and vibrant Cranberry Salsa which can be served either as a side or on a gorgeous cheese board with crusty bread and.sliced pears.
Collard Green Gratin
- 4 oz. prosciutto or canadian bacon
- 1 Cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs or 3/4 Cup panko
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon (or more) chopped fresh thyme
- 1 Cup parmesan cheese, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 bunches collard greens (about 1 lb.) center ribs and stems removed (see how below)
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 Cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Ham and Breadcrumb Mixture
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place prosciutto or canadian bacon (or ham or bacon!) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until crisp, 20-25 minutes. Cool and break into pieces. To make fresh breadcrumbs, use any crusty bread (just bought or even better, stale) and pulse in a food processor until it looks like rough bread pebbles. Combine breadcrumbs (fresh or panko) and 2 Tablespoons oil in a medium skillet. Toast over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and add thyme and 1/4 Cup parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in ham and set aside.
Prepare an ice bath for the collard greens by filling a large bowl about half way with water and ice cubes. Clean the collard greens by removing the center ribs and stems:
Cook collard greens in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender and bright green, about 4 minutes. Drain, and transfer to the ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the collard greens:
These leaves are so amazing and hardy! You can shake them out like pieces of fabric then coarsely chop and place in a bowl. Heat remaining 2 Tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft and golden, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to bowl with greens and set aside. Reserve saucepan (you don’t have to wash it-you’ll reuse it soon!).
White Sauce or Bechamel
Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Melt butter in reserved saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly (so it doesn’t stick and burn), until mixture is smooth and very pale brown, about 4 minutes. You’ve just made a roux! This is a classic way to thicken sauces, gravies and gumbo. Gradually whisk in milk, 1/2 cupful at a time. Add nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, whisking often, until thickened, 5-8 minutes. Whisk in remaining 3/4 Cup parmesan. You’ve just made a bechamel!
Put It All Together and Bake
Add bechamel/white sauce to collard greens mixture and mix to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a 10″ cast iron skillet or baking dish and top with breadcrumb mixture. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving or cool and wrap to refrigerate or freeze. It is not necessary to bring to room temperature or thaw, if frozen, for reheating. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat until bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Credit: Recipe adapted from the November, 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine
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