Greens & Sausage Gratin

Douglas Atkin photo

It’s nice to have friends in high places. Some people like to have friends who can get them tickets to a sold-out show. Others like to have friends who can get them the best table at the hottest restaurant. Me, I like to have friends with gardens. My friend Douglas has the most amazing garden I think I’ve ever seen. He grows beets the size of grapefruits and the colors of his rainbow chard are so bright they glow.

Grab a cup of tea and take a look at his beautiful photos on Pinterest.

It’s his first year with the garden and one could chalk it up to beginner’s luck, but I don’t think so. I think it is a combination of a few things.

First is the location. Last year, he and his partner, Matthew, spent all summer building a beautiful dry-stacked stone wall to surround the garden. Douglas is British and that’s just how they do it on that side of the pond. Stone walls create a micro climate. They protect the garden from winds and they absorb and retain solar heat so the growing season can be extended.

They built a dozen raised beds for the garden out of hemlock. Hemlock is a rot-resistant wood, perfect for the task. The raised beds also help extend the growing season. In the spring the soil in the beds warms up before than the soil in the ground, so you can start planting earlier. In the fall, you can easily add a cold frame and grow crops into the winter.

Second, Douglas did his research. It’s no accident that the cucumber plants are surrounded by beautiful flowering nasturtiums. They deter cucumber beetles and many other pests. Plus you can eat the nasturtium flowers. They add a nice splash of color to a green salad. Douglas grows everything organically so companion planting is an important part of his pest management.

Douglas also planned for multiple plantings in the same bed. Once the arugula is harvested, the beets went in. After the beets are pulled, he planted a round of spinach for the fall. It is all very well researched and planned.

Third, and what I believe just might be his secret weapon, is alpaca poo. Douglas used a truckload. Alpaca manure doesn’t need to cure like most manure, so you can add it to the garden as is. If his garden is any indication, plants love it!

I’ve been lucky to wind my way down Douglas and Matthew’s long driveway more than once during harvest time. I always leave happy with an armful of vegetables. Like I said, it’s nice to have friends in high places!

green gratinGreens & Sausage Gratin
If you have a CSA share, have a prolific garden or are an over zealous farmers’ market buyer, then you know how greens can pile up in your crisper. This is a delicious dish to use them all up in. Even the ones that have started to wilt will be fine in this.

2 Hot or Sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
2 bunches (about 1 pound) chard or kale
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted) or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon of flour
1 cup milk or cream
1 cup grated cheese (your choice, I like to use gruyere or parmesan)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  • Wash the greens well. Separate the leaves from the stems. Chop both, but keep them separate.
  • In a large heavy bottom pan, heat olive oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned on all sides and cooked through. Add the onion, stems from the greens and a couple pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped leaves, one handful at a time. Once all of the kale/chard is well wilted, continue to cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  • Push all the ingredients to the side of your pan and add milk and nutmeg to that space. Sprinkle the flour onto the milk and stir well with a whisk or fork, trying to keep it separate from the greens. Once the flour is incorporated, stir the mixture into the dish.  Cook for a couple of minutes and remove from heat.
  • Add shredded cheese and mix. Taste and add pepper and more salt if needed.
  • Butter a small baking dish. Spread the green mixture evenly in the dish. Mix the chopped almond and Parmesan cheese together and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serves 2-4