I had a dish like this for a birthday dinner at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, MD. It was an unusual choice for me, and just about everyone else at the table had local seafood. The dish just spoke to me, and it was perfect -- not too cheesy and not too dry. It was definitely kale-y, and it had just the right amount of crispiness on top. I played around with it all summer trying to replicate the dish, and this is what I came up with. —healthierkitchen
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Healthierkitchen lives in Washington, D.C., where she teaches wholesome cooking practices.
WHAT: A penne and cheddar casserole made slightly bitter by the addition of lacinato kale.
HOW: In a large saucepan, combine melted butter with olive oil, flour, and milk, then stir in cheddar and Asiago cheese. Mix in lightly-blanched chopped kale and al dente penne pasta, then bake topped with breadcrumbs and Pecorino Romano until golden brown. Serve warm.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Few meals are as satisfying as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. This recipe takes the best parts of the cheesy classic -- melted cheddar and a breadcrumb finish -- and makes it more complex with the addition of earthy lacinato kale. It's simple enough to throw together on a weeknight, but interesting enough to keep you looking forward to the leftovers. —The Editors
4 to 6 as a main, 8 as a side dish
bunch lacinato kale
pound penne pasta
olive oil, plus some to grease
shredded cheese (I use a mix of mild and sharp aged cheddar and Asiago), up to 20 ounces
breadcrumbs (I like a mix of whole wheat and panko)
grated or ground Pecorino Romano cheese
In This Recipe
Preheat oven to 350º F.
In a large pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil, then blanch the kale in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Leaving the boiled water in the pot, use a slotted spoon to scoop the kale out of the water and into a strainer, and allow the excess water to drain. Let cool, then chop, removing and discarding the stems.
Bring the water in the pot back to a boil, add the penne, and cook according to the package until just under al dente, then drain and set aside. The pasta is going to be baked, so you want it to be just under cooked at this stage.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat until the butter starts to foam. While whisking, add in the flour and continue whisking for another 2 minutes. Add the milk slowly while whisking continuously to make sure there are no lumps. Once you have a smooth texture, turn off the heat and add the cheese. Mix well until the cheese is melted, then add the kale, making sure it doesn't stay in clumps.
Add the pasta to saucepan and combine with the cheese sauce. If your saucepan is not large enough, add the pasta and the cheesy kale mixture back into the drained pasta pot and mix well.
Grease an 11- or 12-inch cast iron pan or other oven-proof baking dish with some oil. Transfer the pasta/cheesy kale mixture into it, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs and Pecorino Romano over the top.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top. If after 40 minutes this has not happened, raise heat to 400º F and check again after 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.