Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Swiss Chard Gratin

Attention U of M students:  Did you know that there is an edible garden on campus?!  Admittedly, I am late to learn the secret, but learnt it I have---the fresh produce growing there is free for all students to pick, and the selection is pretty amazing:  tomatoes, swiss chard, all kinds of peppers, squash, okra, corn, watermelons, sage, all kinds of basil, rosemary, parsley, lemon balm, oregano, thyme...

I just discovered this little gem yesterday, but to whomever is producing this bumper crop of organic biomass: thank you for your incredible generosity!  This is such an important resource for students, told by popular lore that Ramen is the answer to impecuniousness, to have.

Especially exciting was the swiss chard.  It's a strong-tasting, vigorous-growing green and was my favorite new vegetable discovery of 2008:  a green that adapts well to lasagnas and salads, but tastes most wonderful sauteed with butter and parmesan cheese.  It's not always available at the MFM, but it is literally all over the place at the U of M garden.  Today and yesterday I hauled home a bagful to make this delicious gratin.  Try it, ye who balk at eating your greens.  It is life-changing.  (And chard does better in cool weather, so I bet as the seasons change it will make a re-appearance at your local market).

The only change I made to the recipe was tossing a handful of parmesan cheese (from Fino's) on top before putting it in the oven.  What doesn't taste better with the addition of cheese?  The answer is, not much.

Swiss Chard Gratin
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

1 1/2 bunches of chard
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used my blender to pulverize some Cafe Eclectic sourdough bread)
2 teaspoons melted butter
1 onion, diced (Bennett-Burke Farms)
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup milk
a little grated nutmeg

Wash and stem the chard and chop roughly.  Save half the stems and slice them thin.  

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cook the sliced stems for 2 minutes.  

Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain and cool.  Gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the stems and leaves.

Toss together the breadcrumbs and the melted butter.  Toast on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven, stirring now and then, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Add the diced onion and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the chard and some salt to taste.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with the flour, stir well, and add the milk and nutmeg.

Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more milk if the mixture gets too thick.  The chard should be moist, but not floating in liquid.  Taste and add salt if needed. 

Butter a baking dish.  Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish and dot with 2 teaspoons butter.  

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs (and cheese!) evenly over the top.  

Bake in a 350 degree oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

So good!  I had this with some garlic-rubbed toast topped with a bruschetta of community garden tomatoes and banana peppers and some yellow pear tomatoes and basil I have growing in my backyard. 

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