The Kale Whisperer’s Rumpledethumps

Mashed potatoes, mixed with other vegetables, make terrific casseroles that can be either mains or sides. One of my all time favorites, and a regular at holiday dinners in our family, is Rumpledethumps (which is also known as Colcannon or Bubble-and-Squeek, but Rumpledethumps is the most fun to say out loud).potatoes-group

For years, I used the Rumpledethump recipe from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (Touchstone, 1990). They suggest a combination of white cabbage, broccoli, and leeks. These are yummy, and make a good, traditional side dish. They are really good with turkey gravy.  But I wanted something livelier that could stand-alone as a vegetarian main.

I settled on kale, cauliflower, and leeks. The kale adds texture and a ton of flavor, the cauliflower balances that out with a milder, brassica flavor, and the leeks add a nice sweetness that balances out the slightly bitter kale. The Moosewood recipe uses cheddar cheese, and that works fine with the kale, too. But I prefer something nuttier and more assertive – a Gruyere or Parmesan. Gruyere can be hard to find and, in New Zealand, quite pricey, so my go-to cheese is a mixture of parmesan and cottage cheese.

The star here is the kale. For a recipe like this, I like it cut into thin ribbons and braised. Here’s what I do:

  • Start with a large bunch of kale, roughly 1.5lbs/1kg
  • Take the tough central stems out of the kale (I just grab the stem at the end and strip it off, like you would strip the leaves off a tree branch; you can also cut it out with a sharp knife or scissors), and slice into thin ribbons – no wider than 6mm/.25 inch. Rinse the ribbons several times in cold water to get off any sand, then let them drain in a colander.
  • Heat a Tablespoon of olive oil. When it is shimmering, add a clove or three of garlic, some hot pepper flakes if your like, and sauté for just a few seconds
  • Add the kale ribbons, with whatever water is clinging to them, to the hot oil with a sprinkling of salt. You’ll probably have to do this in batches. Just add a new handful as the previous batches wilt. You might need to add a pinch of salt to help it wilt along. When all the kale ribbons are in and wilted, sauté them a bit longer, just to ensure that they are all coated with oil and fully wilted.
  • Add about 120ml/4 fl.oz. braising liquid of your choice. I like red or white wine, but vegetable broth, potato cooking water, or just plain water will work too. You can even use chicken broth, just don’t tell me about it.
  • Other kale gurus will tell you to just braise it until its crisp-tender, but crisp tender kale still tastes raw to me. I braise mine for about 15 minutes, until it has turned a nice, dark green and is tender, but a bit chewy. Add more liquid if it gets dry. Season it with salt and pepper. Toss in the juice of a lemon or a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, or to taste. It ends up looking something like this:DSC_1015
  • You can use this kale for all sorts of things. Add it to marinara sauce for pasta. Toss it with chunky pasta (like penne) with a little high quality olive oil, chopped raw tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts or walnuts — This doesn’t need cheese, so it makes a nice vegan option. If you really need cheese, parmesan is good and gorgonzola is better. Use it to doctor up commercial bean and lentil soups. And, of course, it is an awesome pizza topping!

For the Rumpledepthumps, you’ll need:

  • 6 cups of diced potato (I like a mix of floury and waxy; leave some of the waxy potatoes unpeeled. If you are a baked potato fan, by all means, leave some of the flour potatoes unpeeled), cooked until tender (save some of the cooking water) and mashed with:
  • 2 TBS/25g butter or oil
  • 2 oz/125g cottage cheese (large curd is best)
  • 1 cup / 250 g mild white cheese (Monterey Jack or, in the Southern Hemisphere, Egmont works great here)
  • 1 TBS Dijon or coarse ground mustard
  • 1 large bunch of kale, preferably lacinato or blue / Russian, braised as per above (Curly kale is hard to cut into ribbons, but if that is all you have, you can chop it fairly fine — in this case, you’ll need to wash it first.
  • ½ medium head of cauliflower, broken into small flowerets and lightly steamed
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks, julienned or thinly sliced and sautéed in butter or olive oil until it is translucent. For a slightly sweeter, richer flavor, you can let the leeks caramelize a bit.

Mix the Kale, cauliflower, and leeks together with the mashed potatoes/cheeses; add a bit of potato cooking water or braising liquid if it seems dry.

Turn the whole yummy, gooey mess into a buttered 2qt/ 1.8 l casserole. Dot with a little more butter or olive oil, sprinkle with about  1 oz / 25g of shredded parmesan.

Bake in a 350F/180C oven until it’s piping hot and the cheese is lightly brown. That will take about 15 minutes if everything is fresh off the stove. Longer if it has cooled. This is even better assembled a few hours (or even a day) ahead. The flavors blend nicely, that way. It will take longer to reheat, and you’ll want to start off with it covered with foil: say, 15 minutes with foil, and 15 minutes without.

For a vegan/dairy free version, you can make a cream sauce for the kale:

  • Heat 2 cups of vegetable stock until it’s hot but not boiling (2 minutes on high in the microwave)
  • sauté a small shallot or 1/2 a small oinion, finely chopped, in 3 TBS olive oil or margarine (if you must) until translucent.
  • Whisk in 2 TBS regular flour and 2 TBS nutritional yeast and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. It should be the consistency of wet sand.
  • Pour in the vegetable stock all at once and whisk like crazy until it is smooth. Then, bring it to a simmer and cook for a few minutes to let it thicken.

Add the creamy sauce to the kale, leave the cheese out of the potatoes (they might need some extra cooking water to get smooth), and proceed with the rest of the process. This version is good topped with a handful of whole wheat breadcrumbs and some finely chopped walnuts tossed with some olive oil and your favourite chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, and chives are nice)– these will get nice and toasty while the Rumpledethumps bake.

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