Green Dream – Swiss Chard

Last week I brought a beautiful basket of new seasons Swiss chard into the Midleton Farmers market. Juicy white stalks and lots of green leaf. Two beautiful vegetables in one. A couple of customers’ faces lit up when they saw it but overall there was little interest. I wanted to tell anyone who would listen to me that it is virtually my favourite green vegetable. Kale just pips it at the post in Winter. When I was little green vegetables were definitely not my favourite. Now I love them with a passion, it’s almost like a craving. I would quite happily sit down to a plate of chard for supper with nothing more than a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt and a little pepper. Sadly chard is often forgotten or passed over partly because many are unsure what to do with it. The sweet earthy flavour of this versatile vegetable marries well with lots of other vegetables, meat, fish and shellfish. The leafy green tops can be stripped off the juicy stalks and they can be served separately or together.
Swiss chard with its thick, creamy coloured stalks is possibly best known, but we also grow Ruby chard which has vibrant red stalks and a variety called rainbow chard which is so beautiful in either an herbaceous border or vegetable plot. If you only have a little space n your garden it’s worth considering. It’s quite hardy and will keep you well supplied throughout the winter. Meanwhile look out for it in Farmers’ Markets and farm shops and here are several delicious ways to enjoy it.

Chick pea and Chard and Chorizo Soup

Serves 4

More a meal than a soup, this is all I need to eat to pep me up at lunchtime during the week.  Finished with a good splash of grassy, peppery, extra virgin olive oil, it is unctuous and truly lovely.

200g (7oz) dried chick peas, soaked overnight
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
Juice of ½ lemon
2 dried chillies
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
110g (4oz) chorizo, chopped
3 teaspoons of finely chopped rosemary
2 x 340g (12oz) jars (or tinned) good quality peeled plum tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 litre good chicken stock (or water if you prefer)
300g (10oz) Swiss chard
2 slices of day-old chewy peasant style bread, crusts removed
75-90g (3-4oz) Parmesan, freshly grated

Drain the chick peas, rinse and place in a large heavy-based pan.  Cover generously with cold water, but do not season.  Bring to the boil over a medium heat, and then turn the heat down.  Simmer gently for 1 ½ hours or until the chick peas are soft, skimming away any scum from the surface every now and then.  Drain and dress with 1 tbsp extra virgin oil and the lemon juice.

In the meantime, warm 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a separate pan over medium heat.  Crumble in the chillies and add the garlic, chorizo and chopped rosemary.  Cook for a minute or so to release the flavours, then add the tomatoes and stir well to break them up, adding a good pinch of salt.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes, then pour in the chicken stock and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Finally add the cooked chick peas and simmer gently for 40 minutes.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the chard.  Wash and pat dry, then strip the leaves from the pale central stalk, using a small sharp knife; set aside.  Trim the stalks and cut into 1cm chunks.  Add these to a pan of well-salted boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, then add the soft green outer leaves and cook for a further minute.  Drain.

Break the bread into small pieces and stir into the soup along with the parmesan, turning the heat to low.  Add the chard and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  The soup should be deeply flavoured and thick.  Add a little more Parmesan and/or olive oil if needed.  Ladle into warm soup plates and serve.

Jean Pierre Moullé’s Chard Frittata

Jean Pierre is head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkley, California for six  months of the year. During the summer months he lives in Bordeaux and teaches cooking classes. This was one of the many delicious things I ate when I spent a few days with him and his family.

Serves 8

6 free range organic eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive
25g (1oz) butter
2 medium onions finely chopped
125 – 150g (4 ½ – 5oz) Parmesan grated
6 – 8 Chard Stems
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 x tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
10 g (½ oz) butter
25.5cm – 10in non stick or cast iron frying pan

Heat a pan, add the extra virgin olive oil and butter add onion, toss and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook over a gentle heat, add garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Strip the green from the stalks of the chard. Chop the stalks into roughly 1 inch pieces. Bring 2 pints of water to the boil; add salt (3 teaspoons – 2 pints)
Toss in stalks cook for 4 – 5 minutes; add half or more of the chopped greens and cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes. Drain really well, add to the onion and garlic and cook for 8 – 10 minutes.
Whisk the eggs, season well with salt, and freshly ground pepper add grated parmesan, and the cooled chard and onions. Heat a non-stick or cast iron frying pan on a low heat. Add a half ounce of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil. Pour in the mixture, cook for a further 7 – 8 minutes until the edges are well coloured; transfer to a pre heated moderate oven for 10 – 12 minutes. Allow to settle, un-mould. Serve at room temperature with a good green salad.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Salmon Poached with Tomatoes and Swiss Chard

Serves 5-6

1 1/2lbs (675g) salmon fillet (get the thick centre section of a large salmon and ask the fishmonger to remove the skin)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4lb (350g) Swiss chard
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion (4oz/110g), peeled and cut in half, lengthways, and then cut crossways into fine half rings
1 1/2 inch (4cms) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and first cut into very thin slices and then into very fine slivers
8 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
4fl oz (110ml) thick coconut milk (straight from a well-stirred can)

Cut the salmon fillet, crossways, into 5-6 portions (as many as there are people).  Pull out bones, if any, with a pair of tweezers.  Put some salt and pepper on both sides of the fish pieces and set aside for 20 minutes or longer.

Swiss chard leaves have a hard, central vein that also becomes the stalk.  Using a sharp, pointed knife, cut this out from all the leaves.  Cut the green, leafy section, crossways, into 1/4 inch (5mm) wide strips.  Set aside.  Collect a few stems-veins at a time and cut them, crossways, into 18 inch (3mm) wide strips.

Heat the oil in a very large frying-pan or a very wide sauté pan over a medium-high flame.  When hot, put in the onion, ginger and chard stems.  Sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes.  Continue to sauté for another 4-5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and 3/4 pint (450ml) water, 1 teaspoons of salt and some black pepper.  Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.  Simmer on a low heat for a minute.  This much of the recipe can be done ahead of time.

Just before you sit down to eat, bring the sauce to a simmer again.  Put in the cut up chard leaves and stir them in.  Lay the fish pieces in a single layer over the top of the sauce.  Spoon some of the thinner, more watery parts of the sauce over the fish.  Cover.  Simmer for 5 minutes or until the fish has just cooked through.

To serve: Using a good sized spatula, lift a piece of fish with some of the greens and solids in the sauce and put it in the centre of a plate.  Spoon some of the thinner part of the sauce over the top of the fish.  The sauce will flow to the edge of the plate as it should.  Make up all the plates this way and serve immediately.  Serve with rice or potatoes.

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Chickpeas, Chard, Peppers and Paprika.

Serves 8

1 shoulder of lamb
extra virgin olive oil
3 onions
3 peppers
6 cloves garlic
1kg (2lbs) ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons smoked or sweet paprika
2 – 3 chillies
sprig of thyme and 2 bay leaves
300ml (10 floz) dry white wine
300ml (10 floz) chicken or lamb stock
450g (1 lb) chickpeas
1 bunch of chard
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 wide sauté pan

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the sauté pan over a medium heat. Score the skin of the lamb with salt and freshly ground pepper. Brown on the fat side for 4 – 5 minutes then turn over and continue for a few minutes more. Remove from the pan, add the quartered onions, peeled garlic cloves, continue to cook on a low heat for 5 – 6 minutes, add the chillies, peppers, chopped tomatoes, thyme bay leaves and paprika. Stir and cook for 3 o 4 minutes, add the wine and stock, add the lamb and cook for 2 – 2 ½ hours with on a very low heat or in the oven at 170°C, 325°F, mark 3.
Meanwhile drain off the soaking water from the chick peas, Cover with fresh water bring to the boil and continue to cook until plump and tender, 45 minutes to one hour.
When the meat is almost falling off the bones, remove the thyme and bay leaves, add the drained chick peas, and toss well in the tomato and pepper mixture.
Just before serving, prepare the chard, just before serving, chop the chard into 1 inch pieces, cook in well salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, and add the chopped leaves. Drain and Allow to bubble for 4 or 5 minutes. Taste, correct seasoning, it may need salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika. Carve the lamb in chunks. Transfer to a large serving plate and serve surrounded with chard and chickpeas.

Fool Proof Food

Melted Chard Stalks with Bacon and Hazelnuts

Here is a way to cook the green parts of chard as you would spinach.

Serves 4–6

900g (2lb) white or ruby chard stalks
10g (1/2oz) butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50g (2oz) streaky bacon, cut into very fine lardons
110g (4oz) onion finely diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) hazelnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or 1/2 tablespoon sage

String the chard stalks with a swivel top vegetable peeler and chop into 7.5cm (3in) lengths. Melt the butter and olive oil in an oval casserole. Add the bacon and cook for 1–2 minutes. Add the diced onion and sweat for a further 2–3 minutes. Add the chard stalks, toss, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover the casserole and cook on a low heat for 20–25 minutes.
Meanwhile roast the hazelnuts in a moderate oven for 5–8 minutes, until the skins loosen. Rub off the skins, chop, add the marjoram or sage to the chard and cook for a minute or two. Add the toasted hazelnuts, toss and serve.


Thrifty Tip

Place sprigs of thyme into the pockets of clothes to protect them from moths.

Hottips

Euro-toques, National Food Forum and Fairs theme this year is ‘The Whole Hog’ focusing on how we rear, kill and eat pigs in Ireland. Sunday 6th September, at Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow. To book a stall or to participate in Forum and Tastings contact Ruth 01-6779995 or info@eurotoquesirl.org

Richard Bertinet – from the famous Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath, Somerset – an award winning baker, is coming to Ballymaloe Cookery School to teach a practical one and half day course on the art of bread making from Tuesday 15th to Wednesday 16th September. For further details telephone 021 4646 785 or email susan@cookingisfun.ie

Those of you who have a concern about Sustainable Seafood and would like to learn more, you might want to join the Marine Conservation Society. First check out the website www.mcsuk.org it’s a mine of useful information.