Greens Gratin with Bacon

Since November is upon us, I'm already pondering the side dish situation at our Thanksgiving table. A few things are given; we know we'll have a meaty main, probably turkey and/or ham, and certainly there will be mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. But, as for the rest, who's to say? This year, I'm in search of something new, something worthy of the Thanksgiving table. Be gone, yams with marshmallows and green bean casserole! 

Let's do better, guys. For my part, I will use this month to come up with some unique, decadent, deserving recipes to ornament your table. In exchange, you promise me not to serve anyone marshmallows on top of potatoes, okay?

On that note, I present you this recipe for a gratin of winter greens, the first in a series of Thanksgiving- themed posts. Considering that its main ingredients are kale and spinach, it's surprisingly delicious. Then again, anytime the words gratin, caramelized onions, and bacon intersect, good tastes are bound to happen. 

Heres a tip about this dish: there are a lot of steps, but all of them can be done ahead. On the day of Thanksgiving, then, all you do is assemble and bake. 

Greens Gratin with Bacon & Caramelized Onions

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 bunches kale, stems removed, leaves washed
  • 1 16oz bag frozen spinach
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 4 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs or panko 
  • 8x8 square baking pan

Instructions:

  1. Heat a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions along with a teaspoon of salt and stir. Cover the onions and cook for ten minutes, stirring once or twice, until they're wilted. Then, turn the heat to medium low and uncover. Cook the onions for 45-50 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are the color of caramel. You may need to add water to the pan if the bottom of the pan starts to color. Don't worry! That's what is supposed to happen- but you want the color on the onions and not on the pan. So, add a few tablespoons of water, stir well, and continue cooking. When the onions are caramelized, soft, and super sweet, remove from the heat and add the sherry vinegar. Stir well and set aside.
  2.  While the onions are cooking, take the spinach out of the freezer to defrost and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a few tablespoons of salt and, when the water returns to a rolling boil, add the kale and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the kale is wilted and semi tender. You may need to do this in two batches. When the kale is done, take it out of the pot with a slotted spoon or a spider spoon, and put it in a bowl of ice water to cool. 
  3. When all the kale is blanched and cooled, put it in the middle of a large kitchen towel that you don't mind getting dirty, and add the spinach. Use the towel to wring as much moisture out of the greens that you can. Chop the greens into small pieces and set aside. 
  4. Cut the bacon into 1" pieces, and saute until crisp. Remove the pan from the heat, and take the bacon out. Put the breadcrumbs in the pan with the bacon fat, and stir to coat. 
  5. Season the cream with a teaspoon of salt (or maybe two, depending on your taste), black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.
  6. Okay, now you have all the pieces ready! The last thing to do is assemble. Preheat your oven to 375F.
  7. Butter your pan and sprinkle a few breadcrumbs on the bottom of the pan. Spread a layer of greens in the bottom of the pan, and then a layer of onions. Pour a little of the cream on top. Add another layer of greens and then another layer of onions and cream. Add the bacon, and end with a light layer of greens, and the rest of the cream. Top with the breadcrumbs. 
  8. Bake in a 375F oven until brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes. If you want more color at the end of the cooking, you can broil the gratin for a few minutes.