Monday, December 10, 2012

Potato, Kale, and Bacon Pie

In the Bleak Midwinter by James Taylor
This is an old Christmas song.  Old as in 1800's old.  English poet, Christina Rosetti, wrote the lyrics in response to a call for Christmas poems by a magazine.  It has been adapted over the years and paired with various tunes, however, this James Taylor rendition uses the current most popular tune.  This song has really come to the forefront of my holiday listening so far this year.  I mean, I love his entire Christmas CD, but his velvet voice brings this song from yesteryear to current.  His phrasing and framing of the words makes you stop - listen - and feel.  My heart fills with the Christmas spirit and helps me focus on the reason for the season.  It's as heart-warming as today's recipe.

Last spring you might remember me telling you about a trip my husband and I took to Atlanta, Georgia.  We had some amazing food while there, prompting me to write about Banana Pecan Bread French Toast and Bacon Cheeseburger Hand Pies.  Well, the same wonderful pie shop that inspired those hand pies, also inspired today's pie - Potato, Kale, and Bacon Pie.  

You might imagine how I would have been in my glory finding a shop that was as wild about pies as I was!  Pies for entrees AND dessert!  Along with those cute little hand pies and our dessert pies, we chose this Potato Leek Gratin pie.  

They served it in a loaf pan - sort of like a brick shape.  The top was thick with cheddar cheese and a white sauce inside.  The crust was perfect - the flavors wonderful.  The only drawback in the experience for me was the kale.  As you can sort of see in that photo above, that is one very big leaf of kale that pretty much ran the length of the pie.  It was chewy and difficult.

I love kale.  Although it is a leafy-looking green, it belongs to the cabbage family and packs a hefty nutritional punch!  But it can't be handled like other leafy greens.  
It's very fibrous and that is a characteristic that keeps it from being just tossed and eaten like swiss chard or lettuce.  Those fibers need to be broken down.  I've seen this accomplished by cutting, cooking, or massaging with an acidic liquid.

As I reconstructed the pie in my mind, I knew that what I would do differently was give a little more attention to that kale.  It needed to be cut much smaller and given a sauté before being added for the final bake.  

I'm glad that it's the time of year that warrants such a hearty and warming dish.  Finally, I could put all the months of thinking about how to do it, to trial.  It came out just as I'd imagined it would!  It's perfect for the end of the day after working in the yard or sledding or skiing.  It's just as cozy as all get out and so very good. My husband even went for an extra slice!  Ok - so did I!  I'm usually not a big leftover eater, but this will be an exception!

Before we get to the actual recipe, I need to let you know that I usually try to do my baking and cooking during the natural light of the day for my photos - I prefer that type of lighting.  However, I didn't get to work on this until late.  The first photos I was able to take with natural light.  By the time the pie was done, I had to switch to my daylight bulb, which I usually clamp to something overhead before I shoot.  Well - the clamp broke and I enlisted my daughter to hold the light for me.  She said I needed to mention her help.  It's her personal quest to be mentioned more than any of her other siblings in my posts as the "unnamed daughter."  She really got into the photo shoot - talking to the slice of pie as if it were a model.  "Work with it, work with it!" she instructed the wedge.  On one shot she decided we were going to go for a "scary pie" shot and slid the light way low and off to the side.
I'm not sure if the pie is scary - but she certainly gets me worried often enough!  Thanks, unnamed daughter, for holding the light and - ahem - all your thoughtful contributions!

Potato, Kale, and Bacon Pie
makes one 9" pie
Printable Recipe Card
1 unbaked pie shell
4 slices bacon, cut into pieces
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bunch kale, ribs removed and sliced in thin ribbons
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 c. milk (I used skim)
pinch of nutmeg
6 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place pie dough into a pie tin and flute edges high.  Keep chilled while assembling ingredients.

Wash kale and shake dry.  Remove ribs from kale by firmly grasping each stalk at the base of the leaves and, while holding firmly with one hand, strip leaf by running the other hand along the spine.  The leafy part should strip right away.  If you feel more comfortable using a knife, you can remove the thick spine by cutting along stem and separating the leaf that way - or use kitchen shears.  Discard the ribs.  Working in batches, stack a few leaves on top of each other and slice into thin ribbons with a chef knife.  
Dry the kale by spinning in a salad spinner or rolling in a clean kitchen towel.  Set aside.

In a hot skillet, cook the bacon until crispy.  Remove the cooked pieces to a paper towel to drain.  Leave the bacon grease in the pan and toss in the kale ribbons.  This will probably make quite a loud cracking noise for a second or two but no worries!  With a spoon, toss the kale around in the pan over medium high heat until you see it start to absorb the bacon fat and wilt.  Add the chopped onions and toss with the kale as they cook.  If it looks like the grease has been absorbed by the kale, add a little olive oil (1 T.) and stir to coat.  Cook for 5 - 7 minutes until kale has further wilted and onion is translucent.  Set aside. 

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and stir until well blended over medium heat.  You're making a "roux," which is a thickener.  You don't want to let it get too dark.  Just cook it for about 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste.  While whisking, add the milk and stir.  Cook and stir until mixture begins to thicken - about 4 minutes.  Add all but 1 cup of the shredded gruyere and stir until smooth.  Add the nutmeg and taste.  Season with salt as needed.  Set aside.

Place the kale and onions in the bottom of the pie shell, scattering evenly.
Next add the peeled and thinly sliced potatoes evenly and sprinkle with the bacon pieces.
Pour the cream sauce over the top of the ingredients and sprinkle with the remaining shredded cheese.
Place pie on a baking sheet and bake for 45 - 50 minutes until top is dark golden, bubbly, and the potatoes pierce easily with a fork.
Let sit for about 10 - 15 minutes.  Slice and serve!


  1. What a winning combination. Holy Moly!

    1. Will your family eat kale, Melanie? That's wonderful if they do! It's so good! And, of course, bacon makes everything better, right?

  2. That unnamed daughter of yours sure has some sweet lighting skills. Hold on to that one--- she's a gem! ;)