When I was younger (let’s say 5th grade), my mom unearthed a bag of cooked spinach that had been hibernating in our chest freezer for a long time. She decided that this would be a great healthy addition to our dinner that night, or it’s possible that she just wanted to clear some space in the freezer.
She did not, however, realize that cooked spinach doesn’t appeal to anyone that’s not a cartoon character, and after we’d all poked it around our plates for a few minutes, we started making bets involving the spinach. If any one of us kids could eat about a cup and a half of it, my parents would pay out $5. Determinedly (after all, I had earrings from Claire’s to buy), I set out to win the money. And I definitely gagged the entire time. I mean, it was slimy and tasted like earthworms. And my brother was choking it down next to me, which did not help. But, whether by sheer greed or sheer will, I finished the entire portion. And then…I threw it all up about 3 minutes later. Needless to say, frozen spinach was never on our table again.
(P.S. I know what you’re thinking, “Vomit story as an opener for food blog post…nice, Liz.” But trust me, this york story has redemption.)
Years and years later, when swiss chard became veritable buzz words in the circles I run in -”Swiss chard is a superfood….Swiss chard has phytonutrients…Swiss chard can help you fly!” – you can understand why I’d be skeptical. I wasn’t so sure. Looked like frozen spinach to me.
But what won me over to give it another try was its beauty. I mean, just try to walk by a big bunch of swiss chard at the farmers’ market…all its Lisa-Frank-colored stems and brightly colored veins just asking to be taken home and photographed. So, I bought a bunch last week. And brought them home. And put them in a vase for a couple of hours and admired them. And then realized I needed to do something with them.
I was excited to use something out of Local Flavors, a relatively new addition to my cookbook shelf. As I leafed through the “greens” section, I came across a recipe called “Bright Lights Chard Gratin.” Butter? Bread Crumbs? Garlic? Goat Cheese? I thought…what better way to give chard a chance than with goat cheese? (P.S….”Give Chard A Chance”…sounds like a T-shirt design challenge to me.)
And I was right. This gratin is a delicious mix of butter, cream, bread crumbs, and cheese. It’s got great earthiness from the chard that balances all of that out. And the addition of dill and onion round out all of the flavors so nicely. While eating it, Eric and I kept saying how surprised we were to find ourselves liking it. And we talked about future dates with this meal…and how we’d maybe bring some browned bacon or fig preserves along and add it to the mix for some extra salty sweetness. If you live in the northern hemisphere, buy some swiss chard and rejoice that there are green things growing even as the weather gets cold. And if you don’t, buy some and think of us who live without green for 6 months of the year.
(from Local Flavors) (yields 5 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side)
I didn't do much to adapt this recipe since I'm so new to cooking with greens that I was a little insecure. I did halve this recipe because it was just the two of us, but I kept the bread crumb and garlic amount doubled. And I had hopes of making this recipe again before posting it...with the addition of about 2 tbsp. of fig preserves and 3 slices of cooked, chopped bacon, but we've just been crazy busy, and I wanted to share this recipe with you while there was still chard to be had.
1 pound of swiss chard, including half of the stems
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 large onion, finely chopped (I used red)
3/4 tsp. salt
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped dill or parsely (I used dill)
1/2 tbsp. flour
1/2 c. milk, cream, or mixture of cream and stock (I used cream)
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese
app. 2 1/2 c. additional fresh bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400*.
Cut chard stems from leaves, saving half of the stems. Coarsely chop leaves, and then dice stems.
Melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until the onion just begins to brown. Add the chard leaves, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until leaves are wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt another tbsp. of butter in a small skillet. Add the bread crumbs, garlic, and dill. Cook, stirring, for about a minute, then scrape the bread-crumb mixture into a small bowl.
Melt the final tbsp. of butter in the same small skillet. Stir in the flour, then whisk in the milk. Simmer for 5 minutes, season with 1/4 tsp. of salt, then add it to the chard mixture. Add the cheese, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Finally, add the small bowl of bread crumbs, garlic, butter, and dill and stir it into the chard mixture as well. Stir everything together.
Pour everything into a lightly greased dish (about 2 quart sized). Then cover with the remaining bread crumbs. Bake until heated through and golden on the surface, about 25 minutes. Let settle a few minutes before serving.
A side like this goes great with something a little sweet...like barbecued chicken.