Swiss chard isn’t Swiss. It originates from around the Mediterranean but was classified by a Swiss botanist, which is how Swiss became attached to its name. More recently, chard has been declared one of the healthiest foods, rich in vitamins and minerals. We can be grateful that it’s tasty and colorful too.
Rainbow chard is easy to recognize in your kitchen garden because of its red, yellow and white ribbing contrasting with the shiny, bright green leaves. If you pick off the larger, outer leaves over the growing season, the plant will continue to produce even into frost. Select leaves that are shiny, firm and deep green without any signs of wilting, yellowing or blemishes. Wash gently as the leaves bruise and break easily.
Chard can double for spinach in many recipes although its taste is similar but distinct from spinach. In fact, chard shows up inside a lot of dough: ravioli, spanakopite, quiche. Some recipes ask you to discard the rib or stem, using only the green leaf. I like to chop the stems and use them instead of celery. They do require more cooking time so sauté the chopped stems first until tender and then add the leaves at the end.
Alice Waters discovered how great chard is with butter and parmesan cheese. Her recipe and others similar begin by blanching the chard and omitting the stems. I skip the blanching and include the stems. First, I chop the stems and sauté them in a couple of tablespoons of butter. When tender, I add the leaves. Once wilted, salt to taste. Stir in a handful or two of grated parmesan. Remove from the heat and enjoy.
Deborah Madison in The Greens Cook Book offers a recipe for a chard and saffron tart, an elegant variation on a French peasant dish. To summarize, prepare a pie crust. Soak a large pinch of saffron in 1 tablespoon of hot water. Remove 6-8 cups of chard leaves from the stems. Chop the leaves into one-inch square pieces, wash and set aside in a colander. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add a large onion chopped and cook until soft and translucent. Add two cloves of finely chopped garlic, the chard leaves and a pinch of salt. Turn the leaves so they are exposed to heat on both sides and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Prepare the custard by beating 3 eggs. Stir in 1.5 cups of milk or cream. Add the infused saffron, 1/2 teaspoon lemon/orange peel, 3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan, a splash of nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Stir in the chard and onion mixture. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toast 3 tablespoons of pine nuts until golden brown. Pour the custard-chard filling into the pie crust and scatter pine nuts on top. Bake about 40 minutes until firm and golden brown.
“Batter my heart, three color’d chard” — John Donne