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Kale gratin is a steakhouse-quality powerhouse

Mario Batali
Tribune Content Agency

Potatoes are not the only ingredient that can be made into a tasty gratin dish. Creamy kale gratin, highlighted in my newest cookbook, “America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers,” makes for a healthier version of the potluck party classic.

The kale used in my cookbook was specifically sourced from one of the most beloved farmers in the country, David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm. Located in Caledonia, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, Cleverdon comes recommended by respected chefs like Paul Kahan, among others. Opened in 1994, Kinnikinnick Farm is now an established, certified organic farm that sells produce directly to Chicago chefs and farmers’ market customers.

When creating dishes like this, I first think about what can be eaten raw from farmers like Dave. Then I think about what can be cooked briefly and cooked really well. Kale is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms of vegetables. It is one of those versatile vegetables, which is why the Batali family incorporates it into recipes at home so often.

This kale gratin is the best of steakhouse-style creamed spinach with a rich mineral backbone that makes it work even better with big steak and red wine. If you want to jack it up a bit, add some bacon to the onion when you are cooking it for the bechamel. If you want to take it from simple to spectacular, add a top layer of sourdough bread sliced into half-inch pieces for a dipper you can eat with your hands.

Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants.

Creamy Kale Gratin

Serves 6.

Kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

1/2 cup chopped Spanish or white onion

2 whole cloves

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

3 bunches kale (about 1 1/2 pounds), roughly chopped

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 8 quarts water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Set up an ice bath in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round gratin dish.

In a heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cloves and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the flour and stir until light golden brown, about 7 minutes.

Gradually whisk in the milk and cook until the mixture boils and thickens, about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, for 5 minutes more. Remove the cloves.

Add the kale to the boiling water and cook until just wilted and tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the kale and transfer to the ice bath to cool for 5 minutes and drain well.

Roll up the cooked kale in a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Finely chop the cooked kale, add it to the warm sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano and the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the buttered gratin dish, top with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano, and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Per serving: 256 calories; 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 16 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 50 mg cholesterol; 388 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 2 g fiber.