The Best Reason to Drown Your Kale in Cream

December 10, 2014

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

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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

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • holly
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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



holly November 18, 2015
I reeeeeeeeeally want to make this dish but I can never find Lacinato kale! Has anyone tried it with the more common kale? I feel like you could use shoe inserts in place of the kale and it would still be amazing, but I just wanted to double check.
LauriL December 21, 2014
You also seem to wield power over what I serve for my holidays meals. Can't wait to blow my diet on this dish!! As usual your writing grabs me until the end...
Laura G. December 16, 2014
I only had enough kale & cream to make a third of recipe, and gruyere for the cheese, but this was glorious! I especially loved how much flavor the cream picked up from the kale. Definitely making this again (and again)!
RanchoGordo December 15, 2014
I made this last night. Insanely good. Please don't try and be creative. Just do it as written and you will be happy. My only variation was I only had dark cheddar and it looks from the photos that it's white cheddar. I don't know how much it will affect the flavor.
I was really concerned about the amount of cream, but we had six for dinner, many had seconds and there was some left over. It's an intense, wonderful side dish. I think it would be too much for a main course.
Really easy, really perfect and I get the desire to noodle around as it's so simple, but please don't, at least not the first time out.
Laura415 December 13, 2014
I don't like Kale much. Sacrilege I know, but this recipe speaks well to me. Smother anything in enough cream and cheese and it'll be more than edible. This reminds me of something Bert Green would have had in his books. Your writing even reminds me of him. Green on greens is one of my favorite cookbooks. Will try this. Although your mention of kobocha squash makes me think it might be a fine addition in a medium fine dice. I could see making it more asian with coconut milk and Thai green curry. Lots of inspiration here.
Marian B. December 14, 2014
Oh, I bet finely diced squash would be lovely here! I'll have to try that. And I love Greene on Greens -- my mom makes his Sweet Potato Pone every year for the holidays. So happy you enjoyed this!
Kristine F. December 10, 2014
What is the nutritional breakdown of this recipe? Looks quite unhealthy.
Marian B. December 14, 2014
I don't have that information! It's a whole lot richer than, say, sautéed kale, but it's also beautiful and delicious and can happily be enjoyed in moderation.
Peebee January 4, 2015
Why? It has kale, cream, and cheese. Please don't tell me you're one of those people who worries about fat. The 90s called and wants its SnackWells back.
Edlyn December 10, 2014
No guilt here. Absolutely none. A gratin this beautiful should be celebrated, worshiped even. Mostly, it should be devoured with delight and only that.
Marian B. December 14, 2014
Rémy R. December 10, 2014
I'm sending you my deepest affirmations for the fact that you had a weeknight dinner party where everybody consumed 1 cup of cream each. You do really nice work.
Marian B. December 14, 2014
THANK YOU. You're welcome any time.
lynn December 10, 2014
Could we use evaporated skim milk in place of the heavy cream?
Marian B. December 14, 2014
Please don't! That won't work! You need the liquid and the fat in the cream in order for this to work. If you want a lighter kale dish, I suggest going this route: https://food52.com/recipes/30932-heidi-swanson-s-pan-fried-giant-white-beans-with-kale
lynn December 10, 2014
It sounds terrific but the caloric must be huge???? :(
Sonia G. December 10, 2014
do you know what the carbs per serving in this recipe?
Marian B. December 10, 2014
Sorry, I don't!
pagesinthesun December 10, 2014
My Fitness Pal www.myfitnesspal.com has a recipe importer that you might play around with. You can either cut/paste the URL or the recipe, adjust the amounts and ingredients, set the number of servings and voila! It gives you the full nutritional information of the recipe.
maye December 10, 2014
i love the writing. i just have one head of kale, maybe i'll third the recipe. that will alleviate some guilt, too :)
Marian B. December 10, 2014
Yes, you can definitely third it! But I hope that this dish never makes you feel guilty, only happy.
Sarah J. December 10, 2014
I laughed! I cried! I imagined you pouring cream onto the kale from a height of 2 feet, lightning striking in the background!
Dylan December 10, 2014
That CSA box just got a little sexier.
Dylan December 10, 2014
That CSA box just got a little sexier.
acecil December 10, 2014
ok, my first thought was... why would I want cheese to get in the way of my kale? I do cheese, but still, Kale has always been a thing on it's own for me. And then I read your description, and my next thought was... I must do this now (I have everything in my house right now)!! I think it's the idea of slabs of cheddar plus some crispness that sent me over the edge :-)
acecil December 10, 2014
I meant to say... I do 'love' cheese :-)
Marian B. December 10, 2014
Oh, I'm so happy to hear it! There are definitely nights when I want a bunch of sautéed kale and a boiled egg for dinner, and then there are nights when I just want to swaddle myself in this. I hope you'll give it a try!
Kristen M. December 10, 2014
Man, I love being the boss of my ingredients. Thank you for articulating that to me for the first time. Also, so much about this recipe is brilliant. Who needs grated cheese all over when you can get this variety show going on?
Marian B. December 10, 2014
Variety show! Yes! Yes.
Julie M. December 10, 2014
Those slabs of cheddar are everything.