Nueske's Ham, Kale, and Gruyere Cassrole

Since we seem to be on the topic of ham-and-cheese bakes, here's another one that might be an appealing early fall dish...

In September, we like to go apple picking in Wisconsin orchards (click here for a related post) and then buying up goodies in their “country” stores.  Smoked sausages (check), smoked Mozzarella (check), Nueske’s bacon (check), etc.   When we find ourselves struggling to go through all our excellent ham—having sort of gone off eating meat…—we turn to an old stand-by recipe from our Food&Wine Quick from Scratch One-Dish Meals Cookbook.

While we enjoy the “Canadian Bacon, Potato, and Swiss-Chard Gratin,” you might notice (if you click for the recipe here) that it is not rated terribly highly.  And I agree that the dish is a bit salty.  But there are other elements that I think can improve this recipe—elements I essentially stumbled upon while improvising with ingredients I had available to me at the time.

Try it my way and see if you like the dish any better.  I’m providing step-by-step photos for best visual guides, along with what I did differently—and why:

1) Turn oven on to preheat to 425 degrees.  Sauté torn leaves from 1 pound bunch of Kale along with 1 minced garlic and ¼ cup thinly sliced onion or 1 julienned leek (only the white part) in 2 T extra-virgin olive oil until wilted.  Lightly salt and pepper.

Note: The original recipe called for ½ pound Swiss chard with the addition of only garlic.  I switched to kale mostly because I had it around, but I also liked the fact that kale is a bit hardier and therefore stood up to the long cooking time better than chard.  I went to a full pound because ½ pound of greens didn’t seem to go very far (especially once you remove the kale stems).  The addition of leek was purely by chance since my CSA box had it that week and I hadn’t another chance to go through it.  However, I liked the way the leek/onion added another dimension and took away from the overall impression of saltiness as the main flavor profile of this dish.

2) After using your mandoline (or thinly slicing by hand) 2 pounds of peeled baking potatoes and grating 6 ounces of Gruyère cheese, grease an 8x10 or a deep 8x8 casserole dish.

Note: I use Comté for the cheese (since it’s my favorite, nutty, Gruyère), and I increase the quantity of potato and use a slightly larger dish to accommodate the greater amount of potato and kale.

3) Have ½ pound lightly smoked ham slices ready to go, and you can now compile the layers.  Place 1/3 of potato slices on the bottom of the pan, lightly salt and pepper, and then top with 1/3 of cheese, and then about ¼  pound of lightly smoked ham slices.  Then spread the kale mixture all across the top.  Then top with another 1/3 potato slices, some more salt and pepper to taste, 1/3 more cheese, and ¼ pound ham slices.  Then top with the rest of the potatoes, more salt and pepper (only to taste!), and then the rest of the cheese.  Pour ¾ cup chicken broth over the casserole.

Note: To my knowledge, we’ve never used Canadian Bacon for this recipe.  It seems to me that the texture of Canadian Bacon, especially if used with the less hardy Swiss chard, would be too tough.  And while I understand wanting to season each element, I would also go very lightly with the salting and peppering between each layer of potatoes since you will have salted and peppered quite a few times by the end of the layers.  And, yes, I would use low-sodium chicken broth.

4) The rest is just cooking and following the original recipe instructions.  You should cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil to let potatoes steam bake for 15 minutes before removing the foil and letting the cheese melt and brown for the next 30 minutes. 

Note: As with most casseroles—especially those with buttered bread crumbs or cheese—feel free to run the top under a broiler if the potatoes are done and the top is not browned to your liking.

After you let it settle for a couple of minutes, carefully cut into big lasagna squares so that you can see the layers of potatoes, greens, ham, and the crusty cheese!


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