kale and butternut gratin
I see you rolling your eyes. I hear that sigh. I know, I know — kale AND butternut squash — no person is that pious. Truly, I didn’t intend to go all “holier than thou” on you. I was just looking at the load of vegetables I bought at the farmer’s market this weekend and rather than letting them slowly deteriorate and mold in my crisper drawer, I channelled my inner Julia.
I searched online for inspiration, imagining something casserole-y to make good use of the butternut squash and kale. I found kale and summer squash casseroles, kale and rice casseroles, butternut squash casseroles, kale, squash and pasta… Some with sausage, others with b?chamel. You get the idea. Hmmm. What to do, what to do…..
So, I improvised and used what I had on hand. Frankly, this is my favorite way to cook. I feel like a contestant on Top Chef — queue Padma’s sultry command, “Chefs, you have twelve minutes to create a gourmet vegetarian meal using kale, butternut squash and three items from the pantry. Your time starts — NOW!”
Even though I wasn’t being judged by a panel representing the pinnacle of the culinary world, Scott and Emily always tell it like it is. So it was with them in mind that I pulled out the brown rice and dried cranberries, took a breath and began to cook.
After assembling, this gratin looked more like a main course than the side dish I was initially going for. Well, why not? This mingling had brown rice, chewy kale, earthy squash, dried cranberries for sweetness, and the salty, gooey richness of gruyere with a crunchy herb and crumb topping. This was rich and substantial enough for a main course. I put the chicken back in the fridge.
Note to self: Scott likes protein with dinner. He and Emily both enjoyed this dish, but he said he would have liked it more next to a piece of grilled chicken. So much for that — my advice is: know your audience. If you’re accustomed to vegetarian meals, this one will definitely satisfy. If yours is a family where dinner isn’t dinner unless there’s beef, pork or fowl, then this is a satisfying side dish. It’s up to you. I’ve learned my lesson.
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice
- 6 cups water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh kale, tough stems removed, rinsed and chopped into bite size pieces
- 1- 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into half-inch chunks
- 1 cup chopped onion (about half of a large onion)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth, divided
- 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 slice bread, torn into rough pieces (I used whole wheat, but use whatever you have on hand)
- 1/2 cup parsley
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add rice and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Using a strainer, drain water from the rice. Add rice back into the pot. Cover and set aside (off the heat) for 10 minutes.
- While rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a 10-12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add butternut squash and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until squash is softened, stirring occasionally.
- Add onion and garlic, stir to combine and continue cooking 2-3 minutes covered. If vegetables start to brown, lower the heat on your pan.
- Add kale. Using a pair of tongs, combine kale with squash mixture until evenly distributed.
- Add 1/4 cup of vegetable broth. Cover pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until kale is wilted, but still vibrant green.
- Mix in the brown rice and gruyere cheese.
- Spray a casserole dish with vegetable spray and transfer kale and rice mixture to dish.
- In a mini-prep food processor add bread, parsley and parmesan cheese. Pulse several times until you have bread crumbs.
- Top gratin with bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve.