Kale & Polenta Pie

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Thankfully, food doesn't have to be pretty to taste good.

Kale and polenta sounds healthy and virtuous and somehow exotic, but if you add “pie” to the end of it, the addition of that little three-letter word evokes images of grey-haired grannies in aprons setting down a crusted delight before happy children. Oh, not in your head? Oops.

My own personal grandmother never cooked with kale; we had collards, turnips, mustard greens – no kale. She never wore aprons, but I don’t hold that against her, either.

My curiosity abo ut kale has been piqued for a few months now by the numerous bloggers discussing its deliciousness and health benefits. I eat pounds of spinach every week and am quick to brew up a pot of collards with pepper vinegar and smoked turkey wings, but kale is a new one for me.

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Mmmm... cruciferous.

I should not have waited so long.

I joined a CSA available through the school where I teach and unfortunately became ill with a plague that kept me off veggies for a few weeks. I had saved a bunch of beautiful rainbow chard (which I also had never eaten, but that’s for another time) and decided to make a recipe I found in NPR’s article “Going with Whole Grains” via CHG’s Link Roundup a couple weeks ago. The recipe was for Polenta Gratin with Leeks, Swiss Chard and Gruyere.

The chard bit it before I got to it, I had one leek left, and gruyere costs a screaming damn fortune. I decided to attempt the recipe with a leek, an onion, kale, and mild cheddar, and I discovered that the recipe made as written makes six freaking cups of polenta. This turned out to be fine, and I encourage you to make extra polenta (though maybe not six cups). See why below the recipe. Yep, this one is double-duty!

Kale and Polenta Pie

Altered from NPR.org

Serves 4ish as a main course

3 cups water

1 tsp salt

¾ cup yellow cornmeal (finely ground is a plus here)

½ cup grated mild cheddar (please grate your own – I promise it’s better*)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, thinly sliced (and cleaned well**)

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried and it was dandy)

1 big bunch kale, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

1/3  cup white wine

¼ cup parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

First, make the polenta. Bring the water and salt to a boil in a pot and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the mixture is thick and the cornmeal is tender. Stir frequently. (Southern folk: If you make grits on a regular basis, just pretend you’re making grits. Same thing – just yellow.) When the polenta is done, add the cheese.

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See-- just like yellow grits!

While the polenta is burbling away, saute the leeks, onion, and rosemary in olive oil until the onion and leek are soft and fragrant. Add the kale and wine and sauté. If the mixture dries out before the kale is tender, add a little water.

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Kale is ready when it reaches the "Now leaving Vibrant Green/Welcome to Army Green!" state line sign.

Grease a dish. (Yes, I know – vague. The recipe called for a gratin dish. I don’t know if I even own a gratin dish. I used a small soufflé dish, and next time will use a glass 8 x 8.) Spread a layer of polenta in the bottom and top with the kale mixture. Sprinkle kale with parmesan and top with a layer of polenta. If you have polenta left, hang on to it for a few minutes… we’ll get back to that.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350.

*Grate your own cheese. The pre-grated stuff has an anti-caking agent on it that dries it out and keeps it from melting as nicely. If you grate your own, the texture is better, it melts more easily, and you can use less. It doesn’t take long. Trust me; I’m a lazy git.

**Leeks are a pain to clean, especially the ones I get from my CSA because they are grown in red clay. The way leeks grow causes them to trap dirt within the layers. I handle this by cutting off the dark green part and the root, then cutting the leek lengthwise into fourths. I fan the layers like hands of cards, drop them in a colander, and rinse and rub the bejesus out of them. Then I slice them. I know this is wrong/terrible/poor form, but I’m a cook, not a chef, and Alex Guarnaschelli is not coming over to critique my thirty-minute performance, furrowing her brow at my unprofessional presentation slapped onto a black salad plate.

This was some tasty dinner, let me tell you. I’m considering trying it with a béchamel sometime to confuse the hell out of everyone. To make it vegan, nix the cheese. It’s also great with just onions in place of the leek, and you can certainly swap the kale for another green.

Oh, and the leftover polenta! Grease a square or rectangular dish and pour the leftover in. Let it set in the fridge overnight, slice, and toast it up in a skillet. Top with what your heart desires. I used Newman’s Bombolina sauce and it made a very satisfying, quick, easy dinner. Kids and Mr. Bs love it.

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