How to Trash a Great Recipe

A tale of kitchen downshifting, wherein a gratin begets a casserole.
how to trash a great recipe

Most of us have go-to recipes. For my wife, Blair, it’s chicken fricassee, inspired by her mother. And Edna Lewis’s chocolate cake.

Blair makes each of these dishes often—so often that those recipes have become her own. When I hit the kitchen, I try to make recipes my own, too.

For a while, I was obsessed with an eggplant pilau, based on a recipe from Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill in Charleston. Before that, I struggled to perfect a duck gumbo that began as a recipe in The New Orleans Cookbook by Richard and Rima Collin.

More recently, I’ve been working my way through Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. (Working my way through may be a bit of an overstatement, for I haven’t approached Stitt’s book with the zeal that, say, Brooklyn-based writer Michelle Humes has applied to Georgia on My Thighs, her blog affair with Paula Deen.)

My favorite recipe from the Stitt book is a white bean and collard green gratin. I’ve served it with grilled cobia, with fig-stuffed pork loin, and with roasted chicken, too. When I first cooked the dish, I played it straight. I boiled my own beans. I grated bread crumbs from a stale baguette.

That approach didn’t last long. I went lazy. Canned beans came first. Before long, when I reached the step in the recipe where Stitt calls for bread crumbs, I was opening a box of Ritz crackers.

What happened was this: I realized that Stitt’s gratin was, at its core, a casserole. I like to think that I liberated his recipe, that I allowed Stitt’s gratin to become what it was destined to become. But the truth is, I bowdlerized it. And the truth is, it still tastes great.

The last time I served it, Blair said, “This tastes like you took Frank Stitt to a church basement.” I took that as a compliment and offered her seconds.

White Bean and Collard Green Casserole
(Inspired by Frank Stitt’s Southern Table)

2 slices bacon, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 bunch greens, preferably collards or mustards
1 15-oz can white beans
Rosemary spring, leaves removed and chopped
8 Ritz crackers (or similar)
¼ cup white cheese, grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 450°. In a large saucepan, cook the bacon until the bacon fat is rendered. Remove the bacon. Wilt the onion in the bacon grease, then add the garlic and cook for a minute or so more. Add the greens and wilt them, too.

Grease a casserole dish with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add the greens. Drain most of the liquid from the beans and pour the beans into the greens. Add the rosemary. Toss and mix. Spread the cheese on top. Crumble the crackers over that. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of cracked black pepper.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or until burbling. Uncover and bake until golden.

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