Photo Credit: A. Kane
I can’t believe that I have almost let an entire season pass without mention of a tried and true standby—chard. Maybe you know it as Swiss chard, its common name in this country. In the 19th century chard received the Swiss name in order to differentiate it from the French variety of spinach—and the name just stuck.
Chard grows in the same family as kale, mustard greens, and collard greens, but I find it tenderer and not as bitter as these other coarse greens. When young, chard is almost delicate, and can be eaten raw in salad or only lightly wilted. In the winter however, when the stalks are large and billowy, it is best if cooked for quite awhile. Eat them raw and you may find yourself forever chewing this green.
I make chard in a variety of ways, but my favorite is a gratin, made with a béchamel sauce (a thickened milk-based sauce) and topped with breadcrumbs. At this mature age, the stems of the chard can be a bit tough; so they may require a longer cooking time. But, by cutting out the stems, and slicing and cooking them separately from the leaves, you can use the entire vegetable.
The stems give body to this dish, while the leaves almost seem to melt away, blending with the béchamel deliciously. For a relaxed, vegetarian Sunday supper, I make this gratin with fried eggs, a loaf of crusty bread, and your favorite kind of unctuous cheese.
2 bunches swish chard (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
salt and pepper
For the béchamel:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
½ a nutmeg, grated, or ..." teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
..." cup breadcrumbs
Rinse the chard, shake dry; it is fine if water is still clinging to the vegetable. Trim and discard the ends of the chard. Cut stems out of the leaves. Chop stems into half-inch pieces, and leaves crosswise into one-inch pieces.
In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the stems to the heated oil, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add additional tablespoon of olive oil and garlic. Toss in the leaves, coat in the garlic and oil, and season with salt and pepper. Chard will begin to wilt. When wilted, cover the skillet and steam for 3 minutes. Remove the lid, and cook any remaining water out of the vegetable. Skillet should be almost dry; this will take 5-7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, and reserve.
Make the béchamel: In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour, and whisk to make a smooth paste. Cook for about 30 seconds, to remove any raw flour taste. Slowly pour in the milk. Season will with salt and pepper. Bring milk to a boil. Sauce will thicken as the milk comes to temperature. Stir in the nutmeg, and taste for seasoning.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the chard, mixing well to ensure the sauce is well integrated. Pour into an 8-by-8 inch baking dish*. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top, and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling.
*Gratin can be made up until this point, and refrigerated for a day. When ready to use, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake. Because of refrigeration, the gratin may need a few extra minutes of baking time.
Adrienne Kane is a writer and photographer. She is the author of a memoir, Cooking and Screaming, and the food blog, nosheteria.com.