I’ve had a bit of a love affair with this copper gratin dish because it’s unlike any of my other kitchen equipment. I have some great pans and knives, but nothing that feels as authentic as this dish. My boyfriend’s mom brought it back from a trip to Europe and she gifted it to him a couple of years ago. I often walk by it hanging on the metal kitchen rack and think that I should whip up some classic, Julia Child-inspired French dish, like Sole Meuniere. Even though it doesn’t have the built-in flavor of a cast iron pan that has been passed down from previous generations, I imagine it has a rich history in a French farmhouse kitchen.
This past Sunday, for our Mother’s Day feast, I thought it would be the perfect dish for a gratin I’d be eyeing in my Smitten Kitchen cookbook. My mom and dad really love almost anything I cook (in true supportive parent fashion) but I think that they went a little nuts over this one partly because my dad has loves anything with rice, and my mom gets very excited when you let her know gratin is in her future.
I used to think (up until this week) a gratin was really just a more sophisticated French-style casserole. But I have since learned that a gratin is specifically baked in a shallow round or oval dish to achieve more surface area for a buttery, breadcrumb topping. I loved this particular version because you get all the nutty, crunchy cheesy bits of a mac and cheese or creamy cauliflower gratin, but the wild rice mixture is lighter. The caramelized onions really make the dish in my opinion, because they give that sweet/savory flavor and bring out only the best parts of the kale (which sometimes I think can take on that stinky cabbage quality if it isn’t cooked right). I know Smitten says to use Emmentaler or Baby Swiss cheese, but even the rich grocery store I went to didn’t carry it. I used Gruyere, a fine substitute and a common choice for other gratin dishes, and I think it worked out just perfectly. The finished, bubbly gratin was a great side dish set on a rustic table with the Chicken Milanese I also made.
Try not to be deterred from making this because of the nearly one hour cooking time for the rice. It does take a while, but it’s well worth it. You could even make it a day ahead, assemble and refrigerate the dish. One other thing to note, the recipe says it serves 10-12, but I really think it serves more like eight people.
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Serves 10-12 as a side dish
5 cups cooked wild rice (about 1 2/3 cups uncooked)
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
2 large sweet onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 cups stemmed kale leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
2 cups grated Emmentaler or Baby Swiss cheese (I used Gruyere)
2 Tbs unsalted butter (1 Tbs to grease the baking dish, 1 Tbs melted for breadcrumbs)
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the rice according to package directions.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, caramelize the onions. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper, and cook until they’re tender and sweet, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add the kale ribbons, and cook until they wilt a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir together the onion-kale mixture, wild rice, and 1 cup grated cheese in a large bowl. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Assemble the gratin. Use 1 tablespoon butter to generously coat a 2-quart baking dish. Spread the wild-rice mixture into prepared gratin and pour broth over it. Sprinkle remaining cheese over gratin. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon melted butter and salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle over cheese.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a little bubbly and beginning to brown on top.