Some of my favorite meals are ones that can be prepared in advanced, baked all in one dish, and then frozen later. Since I do live alone and I don’t have a family to feed, most of what I make goes straight into the freezer, which is ideal for me because I can take something out for a quick breakfast or when I just don’t feel like cooking after a long day at work. This heirloom tomato, kale, and fontina casserole is one of those meals that freezes great and is something that’s nice to come home to after a hectic day.
If there’s one person who likes food as much as I do, it has to be my cousin, Katy. Ever since I can remember, we have been partner in crimes when it comes to any and all things food. If you ever need a restaurant recommendation for anywhere, she is the person to go to – I can give her any combination of food, and she knows just the place to take me.
I think we can both agree that cheese is one of our favorite foods. While visiting in California one year, Katy and I decided we wanted to make a spinach dip so we drove to the store and got multiple kinds of cheeses and spinach. As soon as we got home, we went to work crafting it; shredding lots of cheese and throwing in some spinach; I’m pretty sure we had a recipe, but I don’t think we even followed it. As soon as it came out of the oven, we dove right in. She and I just happily sat up at the island and piled the cheese high up on toasted bread. And I will go ahead and take the blame; I’m pretty sure I polished it off before anyone else had a chance to taste it.
While we don’t necessarily make batches of baked cheese together anymore, Katy is definitely still an authority on all things food and someone our whole family goes to when we need ideas. So when Katy sent my mom this recipe from Food & Wine, my mom made it for Christmas and the whole family enjoyed it. It’s creamy – the bread almost gets custard like inside -, a little sweet from the tomatoes, cheesy, and crispy on top – the textures are incredible. I adapted it slightly, using kale instead of the chard, heirloom tomatoes (and some cherry tomatoes!), and a different mixture of cheeses. This casserole is called a panade, and usually just takes up any leftovers you may have. Feel free to play around with some of the ingredients, adding whatever you may have on hand.
Heirloom Tomato, Kale, and Fontina Casserole
(Adapted from Food & Wine)
8oz kale (about 2 cups cooked)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp thyme, minced
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 loaves ciabatta, day-old, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
3 Tbsp butter, melted
Begin by preparing the kale. Bring a large pot of water up to a boil, and add the kale. Cook for 2-3 minutes and drain. After they have cooled, take the kale and squeeze out the excess water. Chop the kale. Set aside (you can make this the day ahead and keep the chopped kale in the fridge until you are ready to cook with it).
In a small saucepan, heat the stock until simmering and keep on the burner until ready to use. Meanwhile, in a large sautee pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and thyme and cook over medium heat until softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add the kale and the wine and simmer over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Line the bottom of the dish with 1/3 of the bread, tearing pieces in order to fill in the gaps. Top with half of the tomato slices and season liberally with salt and pepper. Spread half of the kale mixture on top and then sprinkle half of each of the cheeses. Repeat with another layer of bread, tomatoes, salt and pepper, kale mixture, and cheeses. Finish with one last layer of bread, pressing down if needed. Cover the top with the chicken stock and press firmly down with a spatula. Brush the top with the melted butter.
Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for about an hour. Take off the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the top is brown and crispy. Let rest for 10-15 minutes and serve.