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From Garden to Table: Cooking with Chard
The urban apartment where I live has a small yard with just enough space for an urban garden. As Spring approached all of the gardeners in the building vied for a three foot by two foot plot. This year I lost in the lottery but was lucky enough to be offered a small corner of gardening real estate by one of my neighbors. It was just enough to house two small starts of chard and a sprout of rosemary. Over the course of the summer I harvested large bundles of rainbow chard and cooked one of my very favorite pasta dishes with them. I enjoyed this bounty throughout the Fall. Now that the ground is covered in frost each morning I am 'harvesting' my chard from my local organic market.
Chard is no stranger to the mediterranean palate, but not a vegetable that has gained huge popularity here. Less delicate than spinach, more so than collard greens, chard can be bitter raw, but offers up a sweet and pleasantly mellow flavor when cooked. It should be harvested (or purchased) the same day that you intend to cook it, as it is extremely perishable. It is extremely high in vitamins K, A and C and also has qualities that help to regulate blood sugar. Given the quantity of phytonutrients in chard, it is the sort of vegetable [almost] that could make a multivitamin with minerals obsolete.
Because chard has a long growing season, you will find it fresh in your produce aisle long into Fall and early Winter. Green and Rainbow are the two most common types. With long broad leaves, you many find it bundled with short or long stalks. Although the stalks can be braised or used in soup stalk, most trim them and use the leaves as they would spinach leaves, in soups, omelets, rice dishes and often with lentils. One pound of leaves yields about 12 cups chopped, which cooks down to about 3 cups, enough for 3 to 4 servings. The simplest way to cook chard as an everyday side is simply to slice the leaves off of the stems, coarsley chop them, and saute them in a bit of olive oil and garlic and serve with a pinch of red pepper flakes.
I have two recipes that I consistently make with chard, both of which pair this delicious and healthy green with tomatoes. (Once you marry chard with tomatoes you will begin a long and adventuresome relationship with this vegetable that will likely never end.) The first is from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, one of the most comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks by one of the top vegetarian chefs in the world, Deborah Madison. It's a side dish that can be served with a crusty baguette for a lighter meal, or with poultry or fish for a complete dinner. The second is from Giada's Family Dinners, my favorite cookbook from Giada De Laurentiis, the energetic and ebullient hostess of "Everyday Italian" on the Cooking Channel.
Chard Stems with Saffron and Tomatoes
1 lb.chard stems , trimmed and cooked
Pinch saffron threads
1 cup cooking water reserved salt and freshly milled pepper
1 ½ T. olive oil
2 tomatoes, seeded and freshly diced
½ small onion, finely diced
2 T. freshly grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons thinly sliced basil leaves plus extra for garnish
Cook the chard stems first – this can be done well ahead of the final baking.
Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet with the onion, basil, and saffron threads. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and the saffron begins to yield its color, about 5 minutes. Add the chard stems, season with salt and pepper, then add the reserved cooking water. Simmer, covered, until the stems are fully tender, about 7 minutes. Remove the lid and allow the remaining liquid to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute or so to warm them through. Serve with the extra basil strewn over the stems and the grated cheese.
Whole wheat Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and Pecorino Cheese
2 T. Pine Nuts
¼ c. dry white wine
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 onions, thinly sliced salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches of swiss chard
8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
Trimmed & chopped
¼ c. pitted kalamata olives, chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
2 T. freshly grated Pecorino Cheese
14 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pine nuts on a heavy baking sheet or in a pie tin. Toast the nuts in the oven, stirring occasionally to ensure they brown evenly, until they are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set the nuts aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chard and sauté until it wilts, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the wine, and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down and the chard is very tender, about 5 minutes. Season the chard mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring often to prevent the pasta from sticking together, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain. Add the spaghetti to the chard mixture and toss to combine.
Transfer the pasta to bowls; sprinkle the olives, cheese, and pine nuts on top and serve. (Note: I like to add the olives to the sauce while it is still simmering as it adds a nice flavor to it.)