Friday, November 12, 2010

Well, I'll Be Chard

Have you seen the new nutritional scoring system (NuVal) at the grocery store lately, where the item is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the very best? Well, I found something beautiful that ranks a full "100".

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Swiss Chard.

Gorgeous, huge deep green leaves in thick bundles, with stems of red (or white or yellow or green -- or even mixed) -- how in the world could I resist this stuff? I mean, as an artiste, of course.

As a cook, however, I was stumped. For one thing, I just couldn't find a lot of recipes out there for chard. And then, most of the recipes I did find were absolutely loaded with butter, cream, AND cheese. Finally, I really wanted to make soup.

Where did THAT leave me?
I'll tell you.
I looked up the basics of cooking chard in my old stand-by, Fannie Farmer's Boston School Of Cooking Cookbook, and then just went on from there. In other words, I backed up and punted. I winged it. And it worked.

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Begin with a nice fresh bunch of chard. You will want to wash it gently but really well, because, like most greens, there will be some sand hanging out in all those nice little cracks and crevices.

Sand is organic, but not necessarily all that good for you. Just a thought...

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Here's the thing about chard. The stems are thick, kind of like celery, and healthy yummy edible -- but they need to cook longer than the leaves. The trick, therefore, is to cut off the stem ends, chop them up fairly thin (I'd say 1/3" to 1/4" thick), and set aside.

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...cut away the center rib (to the trash or compost it goes!) so you can chop up the leafy green bit separately.

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I like to gather the greens together and roll them all into a nice tight roll, and then make 1/2" to 1" thick slices with a very sharp knife. Don't be wimpy about this, and the knife needs to be sharp enough to slice, not saw. (Keep your hand far away from the knife. Don't cut yourself, PLEASE.) Then I turn the cutting board, gather the strips together, and slice again so that I have a pile of green rectangles.

Of you can just chop them up however is easiest for you, because they are going to cook down by the end and it really doesn't matter all that much.

Now we're cooking.

In your saucepan (and I love to use a good heavy huge pan with curved sides) melt 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil together.

When your fats are nice and bubbly, add your chopped STEMS (not the greens yet!!!) and one chopped onion. Stir them around for a few minutes on medium heat, then add about a cup of chicken broth (and here is where you get to use our now-famous-cheatin'-broth) and 1/2 cup of water, put the lid on the pot, and simmer over medium to medium-low for about 20 minutes, stirring every now and then.

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The red stems are a little disconcerting at this point, I think. The green and white stems may make a prettier soup in the end, but the red is perfectly fine.

You will want your stems to become nice and tender.

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Pour in 3 1/2 to 4 cups of cheater's broth, bring it up to a simmer, and then...

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...add your chopped greens. Stir it all around until the greens wilt down into the soup, add a little wine (or lemon juice!), cover, and simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes on medium to medium-low heat.

See why I love the cheater's broth? The seasonings are already there. Easy peasy. I LIKE easy.

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After about 15-20 minutes, when the greens are nice and cooked, you want to add a can of Cannellini beans (white kidney beans) that have been GENTLY rinsed. They are delicate beans, so don't mistreat them. Be gentle. Stir carefully. Be kind to them, and they will repay you in turn. (If you've never tried Cannellini beans, you are in for a real treat. They have become my favorite all around bean, and I keep several cans in the pantry all the time.) Keep the soup on the heat just long enough to get the beans heated through -- just a few minutes should do it.

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This is the most difficult part. Prepare to completely panic. You need to taste the soup to adjust the seasonings, but at this point is TASTES TERRIBLE. Well, maybe not terrible, but it just tastes kind of like the juice than runs off greens after cooking, with maybe more seasonings. You will freak out. You will be tempted to call your soup a failure and phone out for pizza instead.

But... Don't Panic.

Dish your soup into the bowls. That's where we're going to let a little thing called "cheese" -- specifically "shaved Parmesan cheese" -- work its magic.

Pile a big pile of shaved parm onto the soup, let it sit for a minute to get nice and soft, and then stir it in.

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Now -- since this is, um, an evolving recipe, I would love to hear any suggestions any of you might have! I'm open to playing around with it.

1 comment:

  1. I love chard. I saute it with a little oil, garlic and a few red pepper flakes. Voila, you've got a wonderful fast side dish.