Bruce Aidells Part II: Escarole and White Bean Gratin

A cheesy crust of bread crumbs hides a filling of creamy white beans and kale.

When I was little, my two older brothers and I could spend hours whiling the afternoon away with a bedspread, a flashlight and my Mom’s folding board that she used to cut fabric on for the clothes she sewed for us.

With those three things, we could let our imaginations soar.

We’d unfold the board across the space between the twin beds in my brothers’ room. Then, we’d drape the bedspread on top, leaving the edge to hang over the board. And with that, we’d created a prehistoric cave, a tent for camping or any manner of secret hideaway even if it was actually in plain view.

We’d take turns crawling into the space created between the two beds and the board that lay atop them. We’d use the flashlight to send secret coded messages or to just light up the small space, pretending it was night time underneath a starry sky.

A lot of goodness in one spoonful.

It’s funny how that make-shift cocoon made us feel so safe and cared for. But then again, when you have a toasty warm cover blanketing anything, you can’t help but feel comforted.

Maybe that’s why almost every winter holiday, I love serving some sort of gratin dish on my dinner table like this one.

“Escarole and White Bean Gratin” is from Bruce Aidells’ new cookbook, “The Great Meat Cookbook” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I recently received a review copy.

A mixture of white beans, escarole or kale (which I used), pancetta, onions, celery and garlic bake in the oven underneath a crust of bread crumbs tossed with a blizzard of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.

When it emerges from the oven, all you see is this golden crumbly, crunchy crust with no clue as to what’s beneath. You can’t help but want to dig in. When you do, you discover creamy beans and hearty greens with the smoky kiss of Italian bacon.

It’s a perfect side dish to make you feel all cozy inside. No flashlight required, either.

A golden top to crack into.

Escarole and White Bean Gratin

(Serves 12)

1/4 pound pancetta, diced

1 cup finely chopped onions

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

3 tablespoons minced garlic

2 large heads escarole, kale, collard greens or broccoli rabe; cored, leaves separated, washed and coarsely chopped

2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

4 cups cooked white beans, baby limas, cannellini beans, or Italian butter beans

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups fresh bread crumbs

2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until all the fat has rendered and the pancetta is lightly crisped. Add onions and celery, cover, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the escarole and toss with the vegetables until well coated, then add the stock, thyme and sage, cover, and cook until escarole is tender, about 10 minutes

Stir in the beans and cook for 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper

Lightly oil a large shallow baking dish or gratin dish with some olive oil. Scrape in the bean mixture and level the top. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese and 3 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl and mix until the crumbs are lightly moistened, adding more oil if needed. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over the bean mixture. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and the crumbs begin to lightly brown. Serve from the dish.

From “The Great Meat Cookbook” by Bruce Aidells

Yesterday: Bruce Aidells Part I — Turkish Pomegranate-Glazed Lamb Shoulder Chops and Carrots

More Thanksgiving Side Dishes to Make: Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Butternut Squash with Balsamic and Chile Panko Crumbs

And: See’s Scotch Kiss Sweet Potatoes

And: Ad Hoc’s Leek Bread Pudding

And: Bradley Ogden’s Overnight Soft Herb Rolls

And: Bradley Ogden’s Buttered Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

And: Kokkari’s Sweet Green Peas & Feta

And: Arugula Salad with Roasted Grapes

And: My Take on My Mom’s Sticky Rice

For The Day After Thanksgiving: My Version of Chinese Rice Porridge

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  • A scrumptious and healthy gratin! I love the idea.



  • I wish I’d seen this before grocery shopping last night! What a great recipe.

  • That is quite a crust. Two cups of cheese! You can’t get better than that. Great salty, crunchy pair to the escarole and white beans inside.

  • Well, two things we have in common: we made caves and tents and secret hideaways with blankets all the time when we were kids and yes they were exciting and comforting. And we love a good vegetable gratin (husband is French, bien sur) I love kale and white beans so this couldn’t get any better.

  • beans and bread crumbs seem like a match made in heaven to me, but i can’t really think of another way they’re used together! this looks great, carolyn!

  • I love bean dishes and so creative to put it in a gratin! If I may, I’d like to invite you to submit your photos to the new YumGoggle, a photo sharing site with the philosophy that if you worked hard to cook it and photograph it, we should show it off! Hope to see you there soon!

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