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Why You Should Make a Gratin With Broccoli Rabe


A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don’t count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re making a dish that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

A few fun facts about broccoli rabe: It’s also known as broccoli raab and rapini. It first arrived in the U.S. thanks to Italian farmers in the early 20th century. It’s a cousin to the cabbage and turnip. And it’s often used as animal fodder.

Today, we’re working with a haul of broccoli rabe—three bunches!—but we aren’t feeding it to livestock. We’re turning it into a holiday-worthy gratin. All you need are two other ingredients: heavy cream and sharp cheddar.

The inspiration comes by way of one of my favorite cookbooks, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle-based chef Renee Erickson. Along with herring butter toasts and caraway-braised cabbage, she writes about an extra cozy, highly achievable lacinato kale gratin:

“The leaves on the edges get fluttery and crisp, while the center turns into a melting pot of kale, cream, and cheese.”

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele.

The trick is to not just fill, but overfill a baking dish with greenery, douse with an unshy quantity of cream, top with cheddar, and call it a day. This will look preposterous, unbelievable, even wrong, at first. But the scorching oven will wilt the all roughage, which will turn silky in the cream, with Frito-crisp corners and a blistered cheddar top.

While kale is earthy and mineraly and gets along with just about anyone, broccoli rabe is less of a crowd-pleaser in America. It’s bracing and bitter and doesn’t care if you like it. Think of this gratin as the mediator—the buttery-sweet cream and salty-rich cheese serve as bridges, leading broccoli rabe skeptics toward their newfound admiration for the vegetable.

While Chef Erickson’s kale gratin calls in nutmeg, Big Little staples kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper more than do the trick here. Stirring these into the cream—versus just sprinkling on top—ensures that the gratin is confidently seasoned throughout.

Of course this would be a dream at Thanksgiving, next to the turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. My recipe testing setup was more low-key—my husband and I eating on the couch, straight from the dish, with a nearby loaf of bread for tearing and dunking. But I highly recommend this approach too.

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