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The Best Reason to Drown Your Kale in Cream

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If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook -- or what to drink. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: A gratin so full of cream it will make you cackle -- and so easy it requires only one dish.

Kale Gratin

Each of us has our preferred explanation of why we love cooking: the joy of feeding others, the calming rhythms of chopping an onion, the smell of good smells, the connection to a ritual carried out by endless generations of wooden spoon-wielding grandmas. Really, though, it's all about power. 

We may achieve little in a day’s work but we can, without a doubt, summon our knives and pots of boiling water and ripping hot ovens to turn inedible raw materials into nourishment. Hacking into a kabocha makes us feel herculean; frying an egg turns reproduction on its head; and a dinner party is really just an opportunity to show our friends what we’re capable of with two hands and a well-curated selection of tools. We cooks are drunk on power. 

Kale Gratin

This kale gratin -- from Renee Erickson, the chef behind a number of beloved Seattle restaurants and author of A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus, one of 2014’s most endearing cookbooks -- feeds our most power-hungry parts. Its audacity will make you giddy, testing your willingness to wield dairy recklessly. Most impressively, it will make kale feel exciting and new, a discovery rather than the butt of a cultural inside joke.

Here's what you get to do when you make this recipe: Tear up THREE HEADS of lacinato kale. Pile them into a baking dish, so high that you assume it will all topple if you make a sudden move. 

Kale Gratin

Into that wilderness you will then upturn three! cups! of heavy! cream! You will giggle with delight, or cackle maniacally, depending on your temperament, and then you'll gild the lily with slabs of cheddar cheese, and bake it until it bubbles and browns.

Aside from the fact that its sheer existence feels like a double dare, the most brilliant thing about this gratin is that it does not ask that you precook your vegetable -- it is a one-pot recipe. While its underbelly swishes around and softens in a sea of cream, the top layer crinkles and crisps like an armor of kale chips fused together by cheddar cheese. 

Kale Gratin

Somehow -- maybe it's the sheer volume of greens or the gentle bassline of nutmeg yanking everything back from the ledge of dairy overload -- this gratin doesn't feel like a punch in the gut. It's lush and creamy and fitting for any winter celebration, sure, but I also served it to two friends for an impromptu weeknight dinner.

I deemed it a "light meal for three," because I could. 

Kale Gratin

Lacinato Kale Gratin

Serves 6 to 8, as a side

3 medium (or 2 large) bunches lacinato kale, ribs removed, torn into roughly 3-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
3 cups heavy cream
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (use the good stuff!)

See the full recipe (and save and print it here).

Photos by Mark Weinberg

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Kale, Vegetable, Weeknight Cooking, Vegetarian, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Holiday Entertaining, Ingredients