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Isn’t Swiss chard pretty?

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A bunch of Swiss chard landed on my doorstep when my sister passed it along from her CSA box a few months ago. She didn’t know what to do with it and neither did I. It’s easy to view a new veggie with suspicion or trepidation – this manifests itself by letting it rot in the refrigerator and feeling terribly guilty about it when you toss it in the compost. Nobody wants that.

With an intrigued sense of purpose, I did what I always do when faced with a new vegetable: I went to my trusty companion, the Victory Garden Cookbook for guidance. Each vegetable gets its own chapter in this cookbook, and there are explanations on how to prep and cook each one in basic to fancy ways. It is tragic to me that this cookbook is out of print. It’s the most valuable cookbook I have and I’d love to dispense it to people as gifts but alas I cannot.

When I cooked my first batch of Swiss chard, I was still sharing a kitchen with my mom at the time and she encouraged me as she took care of cooking our entree of fish that night. As I prepped, de-ribbing the leaves and setting up two phases of blanching stems and leaves before sauteeing it all in olive oil and garlic, she observed my machinations with an increasingly skeptical eye. “We better not like it too well. Seems like too much work for a weeknight,” she said. Well, she is the woman who also has the motto ‘It’s easy when you know how.’ Now that I’ve cooked chard this way – and found it to be a very worthy entry into the veggie repertoire – I’ve gone out and bought a bunch or two and cooked it since then. I’ve provided a basic preparation recipe and one that gets a little more fancy. For those of you who are already on intimate terms with chard, any recommendations? Please tell us what dishes you make with it.

Blanched Swiss Chard (from the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash)

Blanch in a large pot of boiling water. Cut the rib, regardless of their width, into 1-2 inch pieces. They will cook tender in 8 minutes once the water returns to the boil after the chard is added.

Depending on their size and age, the leaves will cook in 2-4 minutes after the water returns to the boil.

To cook ribs and leaves together, first add the ribs and then add the leaves, adjusting times as above.

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Finishing touches for the Cooked Chard leaves:

Drain the cooked ribs and leaves well, squeeze gently to remove moisture and coarsely chop. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and reheat in olive oil and several cloves of crushed garlic. (If you’re not a garlic lover, try lemon juice instead, adding it at the end of cooking and tossing.)

Biete al Forno (Baked Stuffed Swiss Chard)  from Carlo Middione’s cookbook: La Vera Cucina

Carlo says this recipe can be assembled a day ahead (except for the cream), stored and covered in the refridgerator, and finished at the last moment. “This is less a recipe than an inspiration. I have no way of knowing how big the Swiss chard is going to be, how big your casserole is, etc, so wing it.” He also says that Swiss chard is an underrated vegetable in his opinion, and I agree with him.

His recipe serves 6, and I keep those proportions below. I used half a bunch when I made it, having enough for 3 as a main course with soup for dinner. His notation of q.b. after some ingredients means ‘quanto basta’ – literally translated as ‘how much is enough’ means, essentially, use your judgment, I don’t know the size of your pan, etc. I like that expression, giving authority and latitude to the cook. The map is not the territory…

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of Swiss Chard
  • About 6 ounces of shredded mozzarella
  • Salt to taste
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • About 5 tablespoons unsalted butter q.b., at room temperature
  • About 1-1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese q.b.
  • About 1 cup heavy cream q.b.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Wash the Swiss chard well in plenty of cold water. Cut the heavy stems close to the leaves and chop them into small dice. Boil some lightly salted water in a saucepan and drop the leaves in a few at a time. Let them simmer for about 2 minutes. Carefully remove them from the water and spread out to cool and drain. Cook the diced stems in the same water until they are tender. Drain the stems well and comine them with the mozzarella in a bowl. Add some salt and pepper. Spread the cooled leaves on a table and divide the mixture among them. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter, sprinkle on about ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, and then fold the leaves to contain the filling. Spread the remaining butter on the bottom of a casserole and put in the Swiss chard bundles. Pour enough heavy cream to come a third of the way up the bundles. Sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is hot and bubbly and golden on top. Serve hot or tepid.

Swiss chard leaf

My sister brought another bunch over last night from her CSA box. This batch has bigger leaves and seems like it would be better suited for stuffing than the rib-heavy batch we encountered last spring. I’m not sure what cooking method I’ll use this time. Maybe I’ll try something new from Marian Morash/Victory Garden. She has other suggestions for stuffing the leaves, other than the heavily dairy version – delicious though it is. I could see the sauteed stems and brown rice and some Parmesan cheese being a nice stuffing, but using broth instead of cream as it bakes.

So as promised, mia sorella, now you have the recipes online to help you tackle the next batch. So happy to have been your test kitchen! 🙂

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P.S. Cook’s log, 10.24.15. Had to tell you that last night I made the stuffed chard recipe again with some significant variation on the stuffing and my husband said it was a keeper and my daughter pronounced it delicious. This is how I will do it from now on.

Follow the recipe above but with the following substitutions/reductions:

  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Jarlesberg cheese (for the mozzarella)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp. butter instead of 5
  • 2 slices lean bacon, chopped and cooked
  • 1 Roma tomato chopped (optional)
  • reduce the 1 cup cream to 1/2 cup of Half and Half.

If you have extra cheese/stuffing mixture, just throw that on top, or in the little well in the middle of the circle of bundles. Add five minutes to the cooking time. To our tastebuds it was a lot better, and not quite so super-heavy on the dairy.

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