Winter Swiss Chard
It got down to 5F (-15C) last week and the high for a few days reached low 20sF ( -4 to 66 C) — cold by our standards, especially with no protective snow covering. especially after the mild fall and winter to date. And yet! yet, how is the Swiss chard doing in its rustic cold frame (the one made with reclaimed storm windows)? Good enough to pick from.
It was even a late planted Swiss chard (that was started in the fall, sat too long in their containers and where finally transplanted in the cold frame in late October (see how it looked back then)
But today? today after a really cold week? A very pretty bouquet!
It founds it way into a split pea, sausage and Swiss chard soup – a riff off the classic Tuscan cannelloni, sausage & kale soup (although when I made it, I was not conscious of the riff… this is how one cook after all when cooking without recipes – from memory or from unconscious influences).
I don’t like raw Swiss chard (I never use its baby leaves in salad for example), but I like it a lot cooked. It’s very versatile for one:
- quick wilted in the frying pan with lots of chopped garlic, then thrown into a soup, with pasta or served as a side vegetable;
- blanched, refreshed and squeezed dried, they can be tossed with a bean salad, with pasta, into a tart or quiche, in a gratin or on top of crostini.
I don’t really like the ones with all the brighter colors either. They might be pretty raw, but they don’t look so appetizing cooked (the red ones bleed all over!), their texture is rougher, sometimes vaguely unpleasant. I prefer green Swiss chard, and I am always on the look-out for new cultivars to try in the garden.I also really like the ones with a very thick stems – I use them as a separate vegetable. They are perfect in a garlicky cream-based gratin with a sprinkling of hard cheese and bread crumbs.
The recipe below is ideal for a quick lunch or appetizer as you can prepare the Swiss chard (and the cheese if using homemade) well ahead and refrigerate it – bring back to room temperature before using. All that’s needed is to toast the bread, before topping it with cheese and the greens.
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, preferably not the red one
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oi
- 3 plumb garlic cloves, green germ removed if any, and very finely minced
- ¼ teaspoon hot crushed pepper flakes (more or less – to taste)
- 8 slices ciabatta or batard or other light, fairly large crusty bread – about 1″ thick
- 2 tablespoons melted lard (more as needed). You may use extra virgin olive oil instead.
- 1 cup fresh homemade farm cheese (may substitute a whole fat quality ricotta cheese – drain it first if it seems a little liquid).
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Dump the Swiss chard in the water and bring back to boil. Cover, turn the heat off and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Drain Swiss chard, discarding cooking water. Put Swiss chard in large bowl filled with cold or iced water. Swish around to cool, and drain again. When Swiss chard is cool enough to handle comfortably, squeeze out (with your hands) as much water as you can. In fact, put it in a clean flour-sack type towel, and really squeeze it dry!
- Chop finely and toss with olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes.
- Heat up oven to 425F. Brush bread slices with melted lard on both sides and bake for 5-10 minutes until golden brown (turn slices as needed).
- Spread 2 tablespoons of cheese evenly on each slice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with Swiss chard (there might be some Swiss chard left). Serve immediately.