Greens O’Gratin

One thing about a long-running food blog … there are only so many quintessentially Irish dishes you can make for St. Patrick’s Day year after year, particularly when you aren’t all that Irish.  I’m also waging a protracted campaign to use up my winter greens before the beds need to be turned for tomatoes and peppers, so we would be eating collards, and the fact that they are green(s) would have to suffice for the holiday spirit.  Then looking for variety in preparation (we are seriously eating collards, kale or lettuces twice a day and thrice on Sunday for the near future) I found a recipe for a gratin.  Great, so now I’m doing “deep American South meets French” fusion for St. Patrick’s Day…and then the name came to me.  So Happy St. Pat’s, scallywags!

Collard Green Gratin

4-6 ounces prosciutto
1 cup fresh coarse bread crumbs
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 bunches, about 1 pound, collard greens (or kale or chard)
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk

PSA: given above-mentioned collard glut, plus a serious case of the “end of winter, right???” itch that corresponds to a waning interest in big, goopy bowls of food, I used about twice the greens-to-bechamel ratio as the ingredients list here.  Following this recipe with the average bunch of greens from the grocery store, yours will be a bit more creamy.

The essence of a gratin is a crispy breadcrumb topping.  You can use store-bought crumbs I suppose, if they’re panko, but it’s so easy to make them fresh.  You need to preheat your oven to 325 degrees for the prosciutto; while it’s preheating, stick a few thick slices of french bread in there and they’ll be crispy before it’s ready (keep an eye on them…you don’t want them fully toasted just yet).

Spread the prosciutto on parchment and bake for 20-25 minutes, until it’s crispy, then break it up into little pieces in a large bowl.

Crumble your well-crisped bread into similarly sized pieces and … wait, another PSA: I like my gratin “rustic” with big breadcrumbs that get all craggy and flavorful and don’t melt into the filling.  If you prefer more traditional topping, give them a quick whirl in a blender or food processor.  Mon dieu, they’re probably convening an appellation protection commité to oppose my au gratin infractions as we speak.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and toss the breadcrumbs until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes at medium.

Toss the breadcrumbs in with the prosciutto, thyme, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and some salt and pepper to taste — careful, the prosciutto is pretty salty!  You might only need pepper.

Wash and prep your greens.  If you’re using store-bought collards with full-sized leaves (closer to the size of a ping-pong paddle), pop over here to see how to remove the thick center stems.  I was using up some plants that never got to full-size…”micro collards,” which my Captain argued is an oxymoron, but I think it’s just “Upper West Side-Deep South” fusion.

Cook the greens in a pot of boiling, salted water for 3-5 minutes, until tender and bright green.

Dry THOROUGHLY and chop.  Thoroughly…there’s nothing more depressing than a broken, watery bechamel.  I gave them a quick spin in the salad spinner and then still squeezed them in paper towels, whereupon an ulu made quick work of a coarse chopping.

Sauté the onion and garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil and add to the greens.

To make the bechamel, melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour, stirring constantly, until it starts to smell divinely nutty and turn a very light brown, should be about 5 minutes.  (This is also a good time to bump your oven up to 400 and get it preheating.)

Whisk in the milk in batches, smoothing out the lumps as you go, then bring to a boil and simmer, stirring pretty actively, until smooth and slightly thickened, about 7 minutes.  Stir in the remaining Parmesan, a half-teaspoon or so of salt, and a good couple grinds of fresh pepper.

Pour the bechamel over the greens and aromatics and stir well to combine; transfer to a casserole dish and cover with the breadcrumb topping.  Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes — if you’ve used the higher bechamel-to-greens ratio you will see it bubbling up around the edges (in fact you might put the casserole on a baking sheet to catch drips, if it’s not significantly deeper than your filling as mine is).

Serve to a grate(n)ful St. Paddy’s Day crew, and may the luck-o’-the-Irish smile on crew, vessel, and garden beds.


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