Sinful Sides: Indulge in this creamy kale and butternut squash gratin

Sinful Sides: Indulge in this creamy kale and butternut squash gratin

Your waistline may hate me, but your taste buds will thank me.

Forget the lean turkey and ham, the holidays all about the tasty, rich side dishes. These are some of the only days of the year that most folks let themselves indulge in rich, indulgent foods without a second thought on the calorie count (until the following day). Even healthy vegetables like sweet potatoes, green beans and kale get an oleaginous makeover with additions of bacon, butter and cream. Why? Because they make foods taste better!

If you’re going to load up on calories, it had better be worth it and taste amazing, and this following side dish is just that. So don’t even bother trying to make a “lightened up” version of this butternut squash and kale gratin with skim milk and light butter spread, go all the way with whole milk, cream and good quality cheese. Your waistline may hate me, but your taste buds will thank me.

Kale and Butternut Squash Gratin
Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 large bunches of kale (any kind), washed, ribs removed and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a mix of Parmesan and Asiago; Fontina and Gruyere also work nicely in this dish)
1/4 cup heavy cream (or more)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used crunchy, Japanese Panko breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375 and spray or grease an 8×8 or 2 quart casserole dish.

Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat and add oil. When oil is heated, add the onions, stirring them occasionally, and cook until they begin to “sweat” and become translucent. Add the butternut squash and cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Don’t stir the mixture too much because you want to let the squash to brown a bit.

After the squash has lightly browned, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, then throw in the kale in batches — about a quarter of the whole amount at a time — stir it to combine with the squash and onions. Put a large lid or a piece of aluminum foil over the pan to get the kale to wilt so that the later additions of it can fit into the pan. When about half of the kale has been added to the pan, pour the wine over the vegetables to help steam the kale and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned caramelized bits of food. If more liquid is needed to cook down the kale, use a little more wine or water. After all of the kale has wilted, remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste and set it aside.

In a smaller saute pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter gas melted, raise the heat to medium and whisk in the butter, stirring constantly to get rid of flour lumps and to cook off the starches in the flour, thus activating the thickening power of this roux.

Whisk in the milk and nutmeg, and let this mixture cook until it starts to thicken. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese until it’s completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cream and season the sauce with some salt and pepper.

Pour the cream sauce over the vegetable mixture and stir to combine, then pour all of this into the casserole dish. Bake it for about 20 minutes, or until it starts to get bubbly.

Remove dish from oven, set oven to broil, and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and the breadcrumbs over the dish. Put the dish about 8 inches under the broiler and cook for a few minutes, until the top of the dish is browned and the cheese has melted. Remove from oven and let the dish cool for a few minutes before serving. This can be also made ahead of time, refrigerated and baked off at a later time.

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