Swiss chard has been such a regular in our farm share boxes that I expected to be tired of it by now. But once I’ve figured out the best way to cook it, we just can’t get enough of it. The secret to swiss chard is understanding that it’s really two vegetables in one.
The sturdy stems (that can be found in all kinds of pretty colors) need time to get tender, while the green leafy part cooks almost instantly and gives the dish a lighter feel. I picked up this hint in Dorothy Kalins’ article about cooking in Paris with David Tanis, published in Saveur magazine (Nov. 2005). They offered a recipe for a handsome casserole of swiss chard, béchamel, and plenty of cheese. While I loved the idea of cooking chard stems for a while before adding the leaves, I found the béchamel to be a bit heavy. Besides, isn’t the use of 4 pans for one side dish a bit of an overkill?
This recipe was begging for a trim (in both the number of pots and calories). I just had to figure out how to do that without compromising the taste. My first change was to get rid of the béchamel. You don’t really want a stick of butter with your chard, do you? Instead I added a tablespoon of cream. Now you could actually taste the chard instead of milk, butter, and nutmeg. A nice side effect of this change was chucking 2 pans and whole lot of stirring in the process. There were still two pans involved – one for sautéing the chard, and one for baking it with the cheese. In my opinion this was one too many pans. Instead of sautéing the chard on the stove top, I tried roasting it in the oven right in the final baking dish. The stems not only became tender, but also caramelized and the greens wilted in the oven as well as on the stove top.
Isn’t it great to know that butter, sweat and tears are not necessary to make a great dish?
Serves 2 as a side dish
(it will seem like a ton of swiss chard, but it shrinks a lot during cooking)
1 Lb swiss chard (1 bunch)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Wash chard leaved in several changes of cold water.
Put the stems in a 2 inch deep baking dish that is large enough to accommodate all the chard leaves later (I use an 8 by 8 pyrex). Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and mix well. Roast in the middle of the oven until the stems are tender and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Turn down the oven to 350F. Pile the leaves on top of the stems. Cover with foil, and return to the oven. Bake until the greens wilt, 5-7 minutes.
Stir in the cream, taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Return to the oven for 5-7 minutes or until the cream is bubbly and lightly thickened.* Sprinkle with parmesan and return to the oven until parmesan is melted, 5-7 minutes.
* The dish can be prepared up to this point in advance, chilled and refrigerated. Before serving, sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the dish is heated through.