Journalist, cookbook author, and self-professed cornbread fundamentalist Ronni Lundy has written a new cookbook called Victuals about her native Appalachian cuisine. It is gorgeous in both words and images, and full of recipes which also cover the history and culture of the region. The recipes I’ve chosen to share with you, Kale Potato Pancakes with Old-School Tomato Gravy, represent the guiding principle in her household of not letting anything go to waste. In Ronni’s family growing up, meals may not have been made with expensive ingredients, or many ingredients at all, but they were always good and filling. The next time you have leftovers, try using potatoes to stretch them into a new meal! —Kristina
Kale Potato Pancakes
Leftover mashed potatoes were often the base for potato cakes at our next meal. My mother seasoned hers with onion chopped small and plenty of pepper, but I like to add other ingredients for a hearty main dish. And I like these so much that I don’t wait for leftovers, but make them from scratch. Serve them with Old-School Tomato Gravy.
– 3 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
– 1½ pounds kale
– Olive oil
– 3 whole green onions, finely chopped
– 5 ounces Asiago cheese, shredded
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 4 eggs, beaten
– Old-School Tomato Gravy (recipe follows), for serving
Peel the potatoes, quarter them, and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water, add a teaspoon of salt, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to a lively simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
While the potatoes are boiling, rinse the kale well, remove the stems, and coarsely chop the leaves. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide heavy skillet and add the kale, a few handfuls at a time, with a couple pinches of salt. Sauté until just wilted. I like the kale al dente, with a little resiliency, but you may prefer to cook it to a softer stage.
When the potatoes are done, remove the pot from the heat and drain them. In a large sturdy bowl, mash the potatoes until they have a creamy consistency (a few small lumps allowed).
Combine the kale with the potatoes. Add the green onions and the cheese. Taste the mixture and add salt as needed (Asiago can be very salty and additional salt may not be desired). Add pepper to taste. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Pat the potato-kale mixture into cakes approximately 3 inches in diameter and about ½-inch thick.
Preheat the oven to warm.
Pour olive oil into a heavy skillet until about ¼ inch deep and place it over medium heat. When a bit of the potato mixture flicked into the skillet dances, add 3 or 4 patties (don’t crowd the skillet). Fry, turning the patties over when they are crisp and golden, cooking them for about 3 minutes a side. Be careful, adjusting the heat to keep them from burning and adding oil when necessary. When they are golden on both sides, transfer them to a rack lined with paper towels to drain. Then keep them warm in the oven while you fry the remaining patties.
Warm the Tomato Gravy and pass on the side with the warm Kale Potato Cakes.
Old-School Tomato Gravy
– 2 tablespoons bacon grease or olive oil
– ½ medium yellow onion, finely diced
– 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
– 1 14.5-ounce can (2 cups) diced tomatoes, with their juices
– ½ tablespoon sorghum syrup
– Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
– 2 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional)
In a heavy skillet or saucepan, melt the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are just starting to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over them and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until flecks of flour are beginning to turn golden.
Add the tomatoes and stir in the sorghum syrup until it dissolves. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or so, stirring frequently to keep the tomatoes from sticking. Add a little water or tomato juice, if needed, but you are aiming for the consistency of a thick gravy, so not much.
When the tomatoes have largely disintegrated, remove the pan from the heat and add salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Both commercial and home-canned tomatoes can vary in the amount of salt already added, so it’s important to taste and season accordingly. Traditionally, lots of cracked black pepper was used.
Serve hot, with the crumbled bacon sprinkled over the top if you desire.
Extra can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and reheated in the microwave or in the top of a double boiler.
About Ronni: Born in Corbin, KY, Ronni Lundy has long chronicled the people of the Southern Appalachians as a journalist and cookbook author. She is the former restaurant reviewer and music critic for The Courier- Journal in Louisville, former editor of Louisville Magazine, and has contributed to many national magazines. Her book Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken was recognized by Gourmet magazine as one of six essential books on Southern cooking. In 2009, Lundy received the Southern Foodways Alliance Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award. She has contributed to Eating Well, Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Esquire, and other magazines. You can find Ronni on Instagram here, and Twitter here.