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Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 08:51 am

(Swiss) chard rolls with chicken and mushrooms

Swiss chard is a close relative of the beet — so close that their botanical name is the same, Beta vulgaris. Swiss chard has other names, including silver beet and spinach beet. Those are more logical monikers than calling chard “Swiss,” according to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. “After 25 years of futile probing, I can find no significant reason to keep it,” she says, adding that she now calls it simply chard.

Whatever it’s called, chard is delicious. Its mild flavor compares favorably with spinach, but, unlike spinach, it can withstand our hot and humid summers.

Not only is chard good to eat, it’s also decorative enough to use as an ornamental plant. That’s true of common white-stemmed chard and even more so of ruby chard with its deep red stems and veins. But chard reached new heights of gorgeousness with the introduction the Bright Lights strain: green leaves are supported by stems in a veritable riot of colors, from hot pink, sunny yellow, pink-streaked orange, magenta and more. I’ve seen it grown in planters along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

Unfortunately, cooking fades those brilliant stems, but Bright Lights and other chards are too tasty to just grow for appearances’ sake. Besides, trimming the plants keeps them from getting unwieldy, and encourages new growth. Interestingly, Schneider says that in most American chard recipes, the stems are discarded and only the leaves used; while in Europe, often the stems are cooked and the leaves discarded. I occasionally use just the leaves, especially if I’m substituting it for spinach. More often, though, I use them together. However, I do cook them separately or in sequence, since the stems take longer.

A favorite chard preparation in Italy and Spain (and at my house) is to sauté the chopped stems in a little olive oil, then throw in a handful of raisins and sauté until the raisins have plumped up. Add a bit of minced garlic if you like, then throw in the roughly chopped or torn leaves and sauté until they’re wilted. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a handful of toasted pine nuts.

These chard rolls aren’t quite that simple, but they’re worth the effort. A good way to use leftover chicken, they’re also a boon to anyone watching carbohydrates and calories.

  • 12 large chard leaves, at least 10-12 inches long, not including stems
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided
  • 12 oz. mushrooms, either button, cremini, or portabella, sliced
  • 2 c. chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
  • c. chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaved
  • 1 c. freshly grated parmesan OR aged asiago
  • tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Marinara sauce, approximately 3 c.
  • Grated mozzarella, about 2 c., optional

Cut the thick stems carefully from the chard leaves about halfway down, keeping the leaves as intact as possible. Reserve the stems. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the leaves just until wilted (30 seconds to 1 minute), then place in a strainer under cold running water until cool.

Mince enough of chard stems to measure 1 c. Heat 1 T. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Reserve in a large bowl. Add the remaining oil to the skillet and turn heat to high. When hot but not smoking, add the mushrooms. Sprinkle lightly with salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms are well browned and cooked through 5-8 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan. If necessary, do this in two batches. When the mushrooms are done, cool to room temperature, then coarsely chop.

Add the chicken, mushrooms, garlic, parsley, cheese, eggs and nutmeg to the bowl with the chard stems. Add mushrooms and mix well. Add salt and pepper as needed. Divide the filling into 12 portions (1/3- c.)

Heat the oven to 350. Blot the chard leaves with a lint-free towel. Lay one of the leaves on a flat surface with the stem end closest to you. Overlap the edges where the stem was cut to form a single sheet. Put a portion of filling on the lower third of the leaf and form it into a log, leaving about 2 inches clear on the bottom and both sides. Fold the leaf bottom up over the filling, fold the sides in and then roll away from you to form a neat package. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling. Note: For a vegetarian version, substitute 2 c. ricotta for the chicken.

Cover the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the rolls in one layer with marinara sauce to a depth of about inch. Place the rolls on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella if desired. Cover with a lid or foil and bake until bubbly and heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately

Makes 12 rolls, serving 6.

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