Hailstorm Collard Gratin

Most of us have probably already heard about the devastation the hail storm unleashed on the farm; NY1 has a report from the scene.

When I went Saturday to pick up my share at the Harvest Fest (LIVE CHICKENS! I was like a little kid when I spotted them; I’ve probably never been that close to a live chicken before. They are way cuter than pigeons.), I saw the giant bins of shredded “take me I’m free” collards and chard. It’s heartbreaking to see so much of the crop torn down — but I wanted to take a stab at putting at least a bit of it to use. So I loaded up a bag with mangled chard, and set out to find a recipe that would make use of odds-and-ends bits.

I came on this chard gratin from the New York Times, which makes tasty use of the chard stalks — perfect, since that’s most of what was left from the chard I’d scooped up.

I also had a batch of CSA tomatillos in need of finishing up, so I concocted a variation on a tomatillo coulis I dug up on Epicurious. Instead of spinach, I subbed in some of the chard leaves, and CSA serrano stood in for Anaheim chiles.

On the theory that Hey It’s Fall Now, Let’s Make Hearty Things, I decided to turn more of the CSA serrano peppers into a pan full of jalapeno cornbread.

With half my fridge contents splayed out in front of me, I jacked in my iPod and set out to tackle more hours of cooking than I usually have the patience for. To warm up, I started with the recipe I’d made before: the cornbread. It’s basically impossible to screw up; all you have to do is measure, mix, and pour it in a pan. I added bacon to mine, frying it up in the pan I later used for cooking the bread. Because bacon makes everything tastier.

While the cornbread cooked, I roasted and chopped my tomatillo mix. Belting along to your iPod turns out not to be the most, um, detail-oriented way to cook. I blended up the coulis (it’s basically salsa), and thought it tasted a little weak. Then I turned around and spied the baking sheet full of tomatillos I’d forgotten to add. D’oh! Back into the blender the mix went.

Then I tackled the daunting bit: The roux. I suck at making fiddly things like roux; the closest I’ve come to it in recent years is making the dough for cheese gougeres (which are so insanely tasty they’re worth doing fiddly things for). But I screwed up my courage, dialed down my iPod, and dove into the roux.

Mine didn’t come together quite as the recipe describes — the first step never turned into a paste, it sorta went straight to “damp clumps” — but the whole result eventually thickened enough that I decided to declare it done. Lacking a gratin dish to bake it in, I decided a pie pan would have to do.

And it pretty much worked! The end result was melted, cheesy and not burned, hooray. I plated it up with the cornbread, and used the tomatillo sauce to top sautéed turbot.

P.S.: My kitchen hasn’t been the same since the tragic passing of Victoria the Zombie Hyssop, so I was delighted when a friend spotted a brand-new culinary pet at the Grand Army Greenmarket this weekend: Goose-neck squash! They look like squashy swans! This one is named Arthur. -Stacy Cowley

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