Cast Iron

Kale Macaroni & Cheese in Homage to Woodberry Kitchen

January 18, 2014
7 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 58 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6 as a main, 8 as a side dish
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Kale Macaroni & Cheese in Homage to Woodberry Kitchen
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus some to grease
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 15 ounces shredded cheese (I use a mix of mild and sharp aged cheddar and Asiago), up to 20 ounces
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I like a mix of whole wheat and panko)
  • 1/2 cup grated or ground Pecorino Romano cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • petitbleu
  • Sheila Crye
    Sheila Crye
  • cookinginvictoria
  • hardlikearmour
  • inpatskitchen

23 Reviews

BakerMary December 12, 2022
Had too much cooked pasta (only added 3/4 of it) and added a healthy glut of cream at the end as it wasn’t as ‘saucy’ as I’m used to. Dash of ground mustard powder, leftover marinated farmer cheese and Cabot sharp cheddar. Thanks for the recipe, saved me having to toss some kale that had no purpose.
Barbara March 5, 2020
This turned out very dry, which reduced the flavour a lot. I halved the recipe but otherwise followed it exactly. I wonder what went wrong.
Debra January 22, 2020
This is a great recipe! I made a few tweaks that I'd like to share which made it over the top! I sautéed a medium onion chopped fine with a pinch of maldon sea salt in butter until light golden, then added 3 good sized fresh oyster mushrooms sliced and sautéed them with the onions until tender. I added a few gratings of fresh nutmeg to the sauce before folding in all of the vegetables and pasta then baked it per instructions. Absolutely yummy !! Will definitely make this again!
mstv December 9, 2015
I am not normally a fan of macaroni and cheese but I liked that this recipe did not seem to have the pasta swimming in sauce. I made it with a few changes (different pasta shape, generous with the kale, parmesan instead of pecorino, cheeses were a mix of sharp cheddar, pepper jack , and parmesan, and brioche crumbs instead of panko). It was really excellent - very delicious. I had a half recipe and baked it in an 8 in square glass baking dish.
healthierkitchen October 22, 2016
Glad it worked out for you mstv!
akweyant March 13, 2015
My family loved this dish so much I made it for my friend's family and they loved it, too! Thank you!
healthierkitchen March 30, 2015
Thanks for letting me know ak! ;)
So glad to help feed families!!
petitbleu March 4, 2015
Yum! This sounds wonderful. I think I'll try this with the kale rabe I found at the farmer's market last weekend.
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
sounds great petitbleu!
Sheila C. March 3, 2015
Could you use curly kale instead of lacinato kale? Looks delish!
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
you can use any green, Sheila. I just really like lacinato. Even frozen works!
cookinginvictoria March 3, 2015
Congrats on the WC win! I love everything about this dish, and can't wait to try it. :)
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
Thanks so much!
hardlikearmour March 3, 2015
Congratulation on the WC win! I've added roasted broccoli, cauliflower, and squash to mac & cheese, but never thought to add kale -- great idea!!
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
I love butternut squash in it too, but then I feel like kids think your'e trying to trick them! I wish I could take credit for the kale idea, but it was all Spike Gjerde - I just really wanted to make it at home!
inpatskitchen March 3, 2015
YUM! Congrats on the Wildcard win!!
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
Thanks Pat!
Rivka March 2, 2015
Yay for this winning the wildcard! xo.
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
thanks Rivka!
AntoniaJames March 2, 2015
Whoa! How did I miss this one?! Congratulations. ;o)
meganvt01 March 2, 2015
Love woodberry and this recipe looks amazing!
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
It is good, isn't it?
healthierkitchen March 4, 2015
I mean Woodberry Kitchen!