Winter Greens and Rice Gratin

Serves 10 to 12.  Freezes well, and easily halved.

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My baby kale…these are only 3 to 4 inches across…beautiful with early morning dew.

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A row of tender young mustard greens.

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My baby kale.

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The mustard green, washed and dried, packed in a leftover store 9 ounce spinach box. Just for kicks, I weighed the mustard greens and they weighed right at 11 ounces. So, using the leftover boxes from the store as a dry weight measure can give you a pretty good proximate weight without having to actually weigh them.

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Chopping the greens before blanching.

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Sauteeing the leeks and/or onions.

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Indidual casseroles, ready to go into the oven.

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Almost done, but not quite yet!

This is a great winter dish as greens are in abundance in backyard gardens, farmer’s markets, and in the grocery market.  Obviously, this is the time which they taste the best, too.  This would also be a great Thanksgiving side dish or a great meatless Monday dinner.

My neighbor has allowed me to utilize half of a row in his vegetable garden for kale.  So, right now, I have a considerable amount of tiny baby kale back there.  You know, that stuff that’s like $6.00 for 10 ounces?  (Yes, that’s just over half a pound, people!) Last Sunday, I went and picked a few cups and ate all of them during the week, just plain out of the jar.  They were delicate (for kale), with a little peppery bite, much like arugula.  Actually, some of them did not even have the peppery bite.

Just a nice mild green flavor.

Now, my neighbor, he is growing a full row of mustard greens.  They have a lot, a lot, of mustard greens.  The greens are still tender and young, mostly 8 inches and smaller.    I wanted something warm and comforting, and thought a gratin would be just the right thing.  The first one that popped up for winter greens gratin, was Alton Brown’s mustard greens and mushroom gratin, which is a low-carb, hi-protein dish that uses ricotta cheese and eggs as the binder.  An excellent choice.

A later search yielded Martha Rose Shulman’s gratin, which is a little more balanced.  It contains rice, eggs and gruyere cheese as well as a judicious quantity of whatever greens you have on hand.  Both recipes call for trimming and blanching the greens in boiling water.  I didn’t want to do this, but I find it hard to ignore cooking directions from both Alton Brown and Martha Rose Shulman! Where one has rice, the other has mushrooms.  Where one has milk, the other has ricotta; but I’ll be using cottage cheese, because it’s what is in my fridge.  I also had half and half on hand, so I ended up using some of that to stretch things out.  Check out both of the original recipes, and check what’s already in your fridge, your garden or your farmer’s market and to create something good for you.  Now, you might not think that Alton Brown and Martha Rose Shulman belong in the same recipe, but, they both like they’re greens, and so do I!

If you have a more delicate green, like escarole, baby spinach or baby kale, feel free to add them in.  I simply added them in after sautéing the leeks or onions (again, it’s what I had) instead of blanching them due to their milder flavor and texture.

Here goes!

So, I’m going for something somewhere in the middle, and will be sharing half of it with my neighbor’s just to show them something different they can do with those mustard greens! The resulting dish really wowed my neighbors. They were blown away that their mustard greens were so transformed and requested the recipe.  He would have like a little bit of meat in it, but when I suggested it as a side to a ham or a turkey, he liked that, too.  But, he said, it was so good, it was perfect as a dinner just on it’s own which is how they enjoyed it after a busy day.  Now, that is a compliment. (It’s only taken me 3 weeks to piece it together.)  As she said, I only know to cook them the way my mother cooked them. 

So, thank you Alton, and thank you Martha! And my neighbors really thank you, too!

You will need:

  • 10 ounces dark greens (mustard, swiss chard, kale, beet) stemmed and washed, cut- blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes and drained
  • 8 to 10 ounces of a tenderer green such as spinach or escarole, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium leek or onion, diced medium
  • Optional: Sliced mushrooms, sliced red bell pepper are excellent additions, too
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
  • ½ teaspoon multipurpose seasoning of your choice (I like Paul Prudhomme’s Pork and Veal- it has less sodium than other Cajun seasonings)
  • Add salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 cup cottage or ricotta cheese
  • 3 to 4 eggs
  • 1 to 2 cup(s) leftover cooked rice
  • ½ cup milk or half and half, as needed

For topping:

  • ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 whole grain muffin, turned into fresh breadcrumbs by running in mini-chopper
  • Approximately 3 ounces grated butterkase, fontina, parmesan, or edam cheese or any combination thereof

To blanch the mustard greens:

Thoroughly wash the greens by immersing them in a large pot (I like to use a large stock pot) and pulling the leaves out.  This leaves the dirt at the bottom of the pot.  Dump the water out, rinse out the dirt, and replace the leaves and repeat at least 3 times.  Even if you greens are “prewashed” from the store or from the farmer’s market, it’s still a good idea to do this at least once.  Don’t be surprised by the dirt at the bottom of the pot!  Greens grow in sandy soil.

Lay the larger greens flat, and cut them into squares about 2 to 4 inches in diameter.  I find this is easier to do before they are blanched.

Rinse out the stock pot, and fill with clean water.  Bring to rolling boil, and drop the greens in for about 2 minutes.  Remove, and let drain and cool.  Set aside.  The greens can be stored for a day or two in advance of preparing the remainder of the recipe.

To make the gratin:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium skillet, saute the diced onion or leek in olive oil till translucent.  Add the optional mushrooms and bell pepper once the onions are done.  Add the garlic.  Add the tender chopped greens, and sauté gently until just wilted.  Covering the pan with lid is sometimes all that is needed to wilt the greens.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the eggs, the ricotta or cottage cheese  and seasonings and mix well.  Add the cooked rice, the cooked onion and wilted greens, and the braised greens and gently combine it all with a rubber spatula, wooden spoon, or your hands as you see fit.

Have one large casserole dish well-oiled with either olive oil or butter, or two smaller dishes.  Transfer the mix into the casserole dish.

Make the topping by making the bread crumbs, or use bread crumbs of your choice.  Sprinkle over top, and transfer to the preheated oven.

Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.  I found it took longer to bake than either of the original recipes, but that’s probably because I had more stuff.  It should be firmly set in the middle and the topping should be crunchy.

The pecans were really great on this dish.  The butterkase cheese also was a good match.

I found that this freezes well, if one is underbaked till just set, and cooled completely overnight in the fridge and then frozen the next day.

The blanched greens can also be prepared several days in advance, or even frozen in advance, much as one would purchase frozen spinach.

To see Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe:

http://www.martha-rose-shulman.com/vegrecipes/greensgratin.html

To see Alton’s recipe:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/mustard-green-gratin-recipe.html

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