April 22, 2008

The Art of Simple Food: Swiss Chard Gratin

Last Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of my cooking/blogging project. Since then, I've not only learned so much about cooking and baking, but I've also learned a lot about cooking culture.

I used to be slightly obsessed with Food Network chefs, religiously watching their shows, buying their cookbooks, and going so far as to make a point to eat at their restaurants while visiting other cities. I dined at Gale Gand's Tru (to this day the best--and most expensive--meal I've ever eaten) & Rick Bayless's Topolobampo in Chicago and Morimoto in Philadelphia. I have signed menus from Bayless and Morimoto. I once canceled one of my classes to see Tyler Florence do a cooking demonstration & book signing in St. Louis.

I don't have cable, so I can't watch Food Network anymore. Even so, I was getting tired of people like Sandra Lee (semi-homemade sucks ass!) and Rachel Ray (enough already!).

Instead, I've learned the difference between celebrity chefs, famous chefs, and great chefs. Through reading food books like Julia Childs's My Life in France, Bill Buford's Heat, & Gael Greene's Insatiable, I've been exposed to chefs like James Beard, Marco Pierre White, Daniel Boulud, Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller, and Alice Waters. After immersing myself into the world of food blogs, I've discovered Mark Bittman, David Lebovitz, and Dorie Greenspan.

Last Saturday, I met Diana Kennedy, who did a cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory. Kennedy is considered the authority on Mexican cuisine, having lived in Mexico since 1957 and writing cookbooks since 1972.

I've also learned about the Slow Food movement, eating organically & locally, and sustainable foods. While I've always been a herbivore, I can now appreciate eating seasonal produce. I understand the beauty of a fresh leafy green.

In fact, I had dinner at Riddle's Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar on Saturday and ordered the veggie plate...mainly just to get the fresh spinach they offered (the first spinach of the year!).

Anyway, to kick off the spring season--and all the foods that come with it--I picked up a bunch of red chard last week.

According to Food Network, "swiss chard is one of the healthiest of the super-nutritious 'dark, leafy greens'".

I've only cooked swiss chard once before, year ago...a quick chop & saute with garlic and olive oil.

This time, however, I made chard gratin from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters...

Chard Gratin
4 servings

Wash and stem:
1 1/2 bunches of chard
Save half the stems and slice them thin. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cooked 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 and coarsely chop them.

Toss together:
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons melted butter
Toast on a baking sheet in a 350 oven, stirring now and then, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Melt over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
Cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard and:
Cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with:
2 teaspoons flour
Stir well and add:
1/2 cup milk
A little freshly grated 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 small baking dish. Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish and dot with:
2 teaspoons butter

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20-30 minutes.

Substitute 1 1/2 pounds spinach for the chard. Wilt the spinach in a pan with a little butter and water. Cool and squeeze out the excess liquid, as above.

In celebration of the new spring veggies--and of Earth Day--I'm submitting this recipe to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging event, which is hosted this week by Margot at Coffee and Vanilla.


Coffee and Vanilla said...

Very interesting post :) Thank you.

Kalyn Denny said...

Sounds wonderful. I love swiss chard! It's so delicious and versatile.