June 28, 2010

Chard. Work. In progress.

Today I received a new cook book in the mail. I didn't even order it! As a new CSA shareholder, I have been gifted a seasonal recipe collection. Thank you, Farmer John. And thank you, generous employer! I hope that you meant to send me this book, because I don't think I'll give it back. Beyond having inventive recipes for all sorts of early season greens, I now possess a bound paper repository of veritable, vegetable facts.

My new cookbook taught me that one should only heat Goosefoot greens in stainless steel, as they will discolor in aluminum or iron. Also, you should really cut out the stems of larger leaves, slice them in 1/4" thick, and begin cooking before you add the greens, which, incidentally, you should slice to 1" wide on the diagonal. I am now more aware of spices that work well with Chard: marjoram, parsley, lovage, nutmeg, allspice, or paprika. I can only vouch for nutmeg and parsley, having a general dirth of lovage in my household. Ahem.

I must reiterate the connection between beets and chard. They are two varieties of Beta Vulgaris, and members of the Goosefoot family, who did not, to my knowledge, appear in any sitcoms in the nineteen eighties. Actually, Beets and Swiss Chard are so similar that we could not tell a beet that had been allowed to flower from chard in a brief walk around the AOLC garden today. Other Goosefoots: Spinach (no surprise there), Tetragonia, and Quinoa. Well, who doesn't have a very distant South American staple cousin?

Also, I made a little painting. It isn't quite done, so maybe I should have kept it to myself. But I'm having a good time, so why shouldn't you? Along with chard, this piece shows off the shoelaces from my old (and favorite) sneakers: the turquoise converse size 5 purchased at a Greek town thrift-store at the near beginning of my endless summer of post-college life. As you can see, they have been lovingly knotted, broken, and re-knotted. Another funny detail: I found it the wooden base at my former employer's warehouse sale, before I ever worked for them, or even thought I would. Walk circumspectly, as some say. What a long, strange trip it's been.

I will supposedly be receiving baby chard in my box tomorrow. Will we ever make it to the next vegetable, I wonder?

June 1, 2010

Rainbow Swiss Chard. Wow.

Rainbow Swiss chard is the free-loving, peace-making Alpine hitch-hiker of leafy greens. It's also loaded with acid. Oxalic Acid. And like a well-worn tie-dyed t-shirt, Rainbow Swiss Chard has traveled across cultures, mixing with everything and nothing along the way. The French cook chard with leeks and and cream in tarts, while more Mediterranean cooks add feta, raisins, and pine nuts. Not as tough as Kale (and certainly no match for the hard-scrabble Cabbage), anyone can see that Swiss Chard is related to the more mainstream beet. Yeah man, the beet. Remember the beet? The descriptor "Swiss" makes certain that we will never confuse this leaf with the more delicate and refined French Spinach.

I made an appetizer, and I took it to a gathering, but I spilled it on the way. And I was really late. And then I sprained my ankle in a freak hugging accident. It was a spontaneous, Rainbow Swiss Chard kind-of night, I guess. But the Chard did well. I have to confess that I felt like I was using it; I'm almost positive that you could substitute beet greens, but that would feel too utilitarian. And I'm sure beet greens wouldn't have approved of my behavior. I mean, why would you date a banker when you could date a hitch-hiker? Yeah, I know it would be nice to have a root to roast later, the total package, etc. Did you know that beet juice has even been used to de-ice streets in the Rust Belt? And would you really want to eat Rainbow Swiss Chard every day for the rest of your life? I happen to know someone who affirms that she could be happy if she ate beets with such constancy.

Ah, well. Live and let live. Here is the recipe. I credit epicurious.

Garlic Toasts with Swiss Chard, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

2 tablespoons raisins (I used dried currants)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed to paste, plus 1 garlic clove, minced
20 1/2-inch-thick baguette rounds (from 1 baguette; why not keep some of the hippie vibe and use multi-grain?)

1 14- to 16-ounce bunch Swiss chard, thick stems trimmed
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (use a sweet onion, if you can)
2 tablespoons chopped seeded tomato
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place raisins (or currants) in small bowl. Pour enough warm water over to cover; let stand 20 minutes. Drain.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine 3 tablespoons oil and crushed garlic in another small bowl. Arrange baguette rounds on baking sheet. Bake until bread is crisp but not brown, turning bread once, about 5 minutes per side. Cool. Brush bread with garlic oil.

Cook Swiss chard in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. (I would shorten this; I think my chard was a little too tender, maybe even mushy.) Drain well. Pat with paper towels to remove excess water. Finely chop chard. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and minced garlic and sauté until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add tomato and parsley and stir 1 minute. Increase heat to high; add pine nuts, nutmeg, raisins, and chard and stir 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top toasts with Swiss chard mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature, whatever man.

I was pretty pleased with this recipe, which can party in any season. Just add good beer, someone else's house, and an open mind.