Colorful, nutritious, easy Swiss chard
Of all the plants in my vegetable garden, I have a special fondness for Swiss chard. Unlike asparagus, which makes an early spring appearance and then quietly goes to seed, or Brussels sprouts, whose tasty orbs do not come to maturity until the fall, my Swiss chard offers itself unto me from late spring through the long, hot summer until the first frost. Rainbow chard is especially gorgeous, with celery-like stalks and crinkly leaves that come in a carousel of colors, including pink, orange, red, purple, white and yellow. Unlike lettuce and spinach, which favor cooler weather, Swiss chard stands up to the heat of summer without going to seed. Throughout the growing season, you can harvest the mature outer stalks and it continues to produce more stalks from the center. Unlike spinach, which requires me to crawl around on my knees, Swiss chard is easily harvested while standing up. Swiss chard is packed with nutrition. It is a superb source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as magnesium, potassium and iron. Swiss chard is very low in calories, and makes a colorful side dish as well as being a nutritious addition to soups, quiches and pasta dishes.
Considered to be of Mediterranean origin, Europeans favor cooking the chard stalks instead of the leaves. Cookbook author Richard Olney, in Simple French Food, wrote that except for the south of France where chard leaves are used in stuffings, gratins and soups, “the green leafy parts … are usually fed to the rabbits and the ducks.” In European vegetable markets, chard is sold with long, wide stalks 4 to 6 inches wide. Americans, on the other hand, tend to prefer the leaves and here chard is usually sold with short, narrow stalks.
The leaves of chard are prepared like spinach: sautéed briefly or blanched for 1-2 minutes in boiling salted water and plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking. The stems are best sautéed in olive oil until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. In recipes calling for both leaves and stems, always cook the stems first, until just tender, and then add the leaves.
Swiss chard does not survive a frost like heartier greens such as kale or collards. When frost is predicted, you should harvest all your chard. Stem, wash, blanch, drain and freeze portions in freezer bags. The frozen chard makes a great addition to winter soups.
My favorite way to enjoy Swiss chard is this very simple recipe, seasoned with sautéed garlic and sweetened by raisins. Pine nuts give it a nice crunchiness. It makes a great picnic or potluck side dish because it is as enjoyable at room temperature as it is warm, and it is appealing to both omnivores and vegans.
Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts
• 3 T. raisins
• 2 lbs. Swiss chard, stemmed and washed, stems diced and reserved
• 2 T. olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 3 T. pine nuts
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
Soak the raisins in hot water for 10 minutes. Then drain.
Prepare an ice bath. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the Swiss chard leaves. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until tender. Transfer to ice water bath and allow to cool. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Coarsely chop.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté Swiss chard stems 3 to 5 minutes, until tender.
Move the stems off to the side of the pan, add the pine nuts and cook until they begin to brown slightly, about 3 minutes.
Move the pine nuts off to the side with the stems and add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to soften, about 1 minute.
Add the chopped Swiss chard greens and raisins and stir to combine with the other ingredients until coated with the olive oil and warmed through, about 3 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Swiss chard frittata
• Another of my favorite preparations is a Swiss chard frittata. I enjoy it warm for tonight’s dinner and cool for tomorrow’s lunch. Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.
• 1 bunch Swiss chard
• Olive oil
• 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
• 6 eggs
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• Pinch of cayenne
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
Wash and stem Swiss chard. Cut stems into ¼-inch slices. Coarsely chop leaves.
Heat 1 T. olive oil in heavy pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add chard stems and cook for 4 minutes. Season with salt.
Add the leaves and cook until tender. Add a little water if pan dries out. Remove from pan to stop the cooking.
Crack 6 eggs into a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil, chopped garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper. Beat lightly.
Gently squeeze the chard to remove most of the water. Stir the chard into the beaten eggs.
Preheat a 10-inch nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Add 2 T. olive oil. Pour in the egg mixture. As the eggs set on the bottom, lift the edges and allow the uncooked egg to flow underneath. Continue to cook until mostly set. Invert a plate on top of pan and turn over. Add 1 t. olive oil to pan and slide frittata back into pan. Cook for 3 more minutes.
Slide onto plate and serve warm or at room temperature.
Peter Glatz’s favorite al fresco dining companion is his Jack Russell terrier Toulouse. Toulouse used to be a cheap date until he developed a fondness for foie gras. Toulouse’s favorite meal is the foie gras tortellini from Champaign’s Bacaro Restaurant.