Swiss Chard – A Great Side Dish for Fall

asTurnip greens and collards were familiar staples at our table when I was growing up in the South, but Swiss chard, another nutrient-packed green, was never on the menu. Not until many years later, did I discover this delicious, leafy vegetable. Chard comes in green, red, and yellow varieties and is available throughout the year, but right now it’s at its peak in my farmers’ markets and local groceries.

Mediterranean cooks have long used chard imaginatively, but I only recently started cooking with this vegetable that ranks as one of the healthiest in the world. Like spinach, it can be sautéed with garlic, added to vegetable soups, or baked in a casserole with a creamy sauce, all with tempting results.

One of my favorite ways to prepare this vegetable is to use it in a gratin. I spread cooked chard (any of the varieties will work) combined with creamy mascarpone and grated Parmesan in a baking dish, add a topping of sliced cherry tomatoes tossed in balsamic vinegar, and then pop the dish in the oven for twenty minutes. It makes a glorious side to grilled steaks or chops or to roasted chicken or lamb. If you haven’t been cooking with chard, I hope this gratin will encourage you to give it a try!

Swiss Chard, Mascarpone, and Cherry Tomato Gratin
2 to 2 1/2 lbs/910g to 1.2 kg Swiss chard, cleaned and dried
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups/280 g chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup/240 ml mascarpone, if possible at room temperature
3/4 cup/90 g grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
Kosher salt
1/2 cup/90 g sliced cherry tomatoes
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1. Generously oil a 9-by-13-in/23-by-33-cm or a shallow 3 qt/2.8 L baking dish.

2. With a sharp knife, cut out the tough stems that run through the centers of the chard leaves. Cut enough of the stems into small dice to equal 2 cups/224 g. Discard remaining stems. Set aside the chard leaves.

3. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, only a minute. Drain the chard and place in a salad spinner; spin to remove as much water as possible. (If you don’t have a spinner, drain the chard in a colander, pressing down with the back of wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.) Place the chard in a clean kitchen towel and wring out any remaining moisture. Chop chard coarsely.

4. Heat the olive oil in a medium, heavy frying pan set over medium heat. When hot, add the diced chard stems and onions; stir and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute more. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and combine with the chard. Then stir in the mascarpone and 1/2 cup/60 g of the Parmesan until cheeses are blended into the mixture. Season with 1 tsp salt, or more to taste.

5. Spread the chard mixture in the prepared casserole. In a small bowl, toss the sliced tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and 1/8 tsp salt, and arrange them on the top of the chard. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of the remaining Parmesan over the casserole. (Gratin can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

6. To bake, arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C/gas 5. Bake the casserole until hot, and the cheese has melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp Parmesan over the dish. Serves 6

Prep time: 25 minutes
Start-to-finish: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Adapted from Sunday Casseroles by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books) due in fall 2014

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