Swiss Chard

It hasn’t been the most fascinating weekend activity-wise around here so we spent some time Sunday afternoon at the Delray Antique Show. It’s always a fine one and we weren’t disappointed. What we were was stalked. In all the years I have gone to this show this is the first time booth owners were quite so chatty- often standing behind us holding forth on whatever item happened to be in front of us.

It’s a small show, but still- there couldn't have been more than 25 people there. Of course, it was the last day and the last afternoon. I imagine sales weren't exactly robust to say the least. To say the most, the owners were coming way, way down in their prices before we even asked. I didn’t buy, although I was tempted by a smashing and fun flamingo pitcher- rather like a piece of majolica although it wasn’t. Mostly the same vendors come each year but there was a new one this year, Nula Thanhauser. She had a booth chock full of vintage designer bags. Check it out: http://www.nulathanhauser.com/ We were enchanted. But we didn’t help the economy much.

I arrived home only to remember I had purchased some Swiss chard Saturday at the green market to try out in some recipes. A very good way to perk up a boring Sunday I think. When bored, cook. So here goes.....
If you’re anything like me, Swiss chard is a vegetable that you pass right by in the produce section. But I recently had my first taste of it- all by itself. I don’t know what I expected, but not this delicious flavor. It’s actually a member of the beet family, it just doesn’t have a bulb. It comes in a variety of colors; the leafy portion is always a nice green, while the stalk can be white, bright yellow, or a Christmas red. If you see it packaged together, it is often referred to as rainbow chard.

It tastes much like spinach although I think it has a nuttier and cleaner taste. If you’ve tried it before and it left you uninspired, get some from a farmer's market where it has been freshly picked. It’s sort of like the difference between white corn picked that day, or the same corn two days later. The tastes don't even compare.

The secret to Swiss chard is understanding that it’s really two vegetables in one. The younger, sweeter leaves can be put raw in salads, providing color and nutrition. Larger leaves can be chopped and cooked. The leafy portions cook quickly like spinach; the stalks should be chopped into bite-size pieces and can be sautéed or steamed for a longer period of time than the leaves.
But the most important thing about Swiss chard is its exceptionally impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. A super healthy vegetable, it gets excellent marks for its concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard also emerges as a very good or good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid. I don’t think you can beat that for healthy!

As far as recipes are concerned, remember that it is interchangeable with spinach in most recipes: you can use it in quiches, pasta dishes, in soups and salads. I tried it several ways and enjoyed it immensely each time.

When I first tasted Swiss chard it was served as a vegetable side dish, simple, nothing fancy. There appeared to be onions and garlic mixed in with the chard and perhaps butter, but I knew there was a slightly salty taste and perhaps a little broth had been added for cooking, so I added a little soy sauce and some chicken broth. I think onions can be a little strong, so I decided to use milder shallots instead. After they were mostly caramelized, I added some minced garlic. Start with a big pan because, like spinach, it wilts down to practically nothing when it’s cooked. I think a touch of nutmeg might be good too and perhaps mushrooms.
Give my recipes a try- then widen your experiment to replace spinach with Swiss chard in some of your other recipes. That’s what I’m going to do.

Sautéed Swiss Chard
Ingredients:2 bunches Swiss chard
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Method:Wash the chard, but don’t dry. Trim the large stems away and coarsely chop the leaves horizontally in 2 inch chunks. In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the shallots. Sauté until nearly caramelized and then add the garlic. Sauté another minute; add the chard, soy sauce and chicken broth. The pan will look overloaded, but chard reduces like spinach. Cook, stirring often until the greens have wilted and are tender. ( I served it with sea scallops for my dinner.)

Later, I was chatting on the phone with an Italian friend about my chard recipe and she said her mother made it all the time, but added a few other ingredients. She browned some pancetta, removed it, added the shallots, caramelized them, and then added the garlic and the chard. When it was nearly wilted, she added a well-rinsed can of cannelloni beans and a red tomato, diced. When everything was warmed through, she added the pancetta and served it- almost like a soup- with some really good bread. Yum.And lo and behold, in my stack of recipes, I found a Swiss chard recipe torn out of an old Gourmet magazine. I made it with what chard I had left- I think I liked it best.
(I also discovered a recipe for a Swiss chard tart-sounded divine, but by this time, I ran out of chard. I will save it for another day.)

Swiss Chard With Raisins and Pine Nuts(Gourmet Magazine, February 2005)
Ingredients:1 ½ pounds Swiss chard, rainbow or red (two bunches)
½ cup pine nuts
1/8 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
¼ cup golden raisins
½ cup chicken broth

Method:Tear the stems from the leaves and coarsely chop them separately. Toast pine nuts in the oil, remove to a paper towel; season with salt. Add the onion to the pan and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chard stems. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add raisins and ¼ cup chicken broth and simmer, covered until stems are softened, about 3 minutes. Add chard leaves and remaining ½ cup chicken broth. Simmer, partially covered until the leaves are tender, about 3 minutes. Add the pine nuts and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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