Rainbow Chard

February 2, 2011

the snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches
~e.e. cummings

A furious blizzard trekked across the midsection this week, paralyzing cities and towns, closing airports, interstates, schools, and businesses. The often blinding storm left behind frigid temperatures, ebullient students, “the sky is falling” forecasters and stark winterscapes. Some color seemed in order.

Our fortune lay quietly in the frig—the previous day the grocer was unloading tender, glossy leafed bunches of rainbow chard with crisp, vividly hued stems. As usual, I could not resist. Rainbow chard displays vibrant red, pink, white, and gold ribs that contrast with veined green leaves. A visual treat amid this cold, austere white.

A delicate side chocked with nutrients, chard may be steamed, sautéed, or braised.

RAINBOW CHARD WITH GARLIC & PARMIGIANO REGGIANO (OR LEMON)

1 large bunch rainbow chard, thick stems discarded and leaves cut into 2″ strips

3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, minced or very thinly sliced
1/4 C chicken or vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated or
Lemon zest, freshly grated

Add olive oil and garlic to a skillet over medium high heat. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant but before it browns. Then add chard in handfuls and chicken stock, tossing. Season with salt and pepper and let cook until soft over medium high heat, stirring occassionally.

Remove, plate or toss in bowl and lightly sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano or lemon zest.

RAINBOW CHARD WITH CURRANTS & PINE NUTS

1 large bunch rainbow chard, thick stems discarded and leaves cut into 2″ strips

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C pine nuts
1/3 C currants
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a dry small skillet, toast the pine nuts until just lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add chard in handfuls, season with salt and pepper and cook until it begins to wilt. Then, toss in the pine nuts and currants. Stir and continue to cook until chard is pleasantly softened.

Pourboire: Before cooking, chard needs to be thoroughly washed and dried since sand and other debris tend to nestle in the leaves. Instead of discarding, reserve the chard ribs for stocks and soups.

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Lamb, Chard & Ricotta Lasagna

December 28, 2010

Language is the archives of history.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Admittedly, it’s been much too long since pen has touched paper here. But, fear not—there are plenty of contrivances in the kitchen to unleash. The hearty number below is for those hunkering down in the white chills back east and across the pond.

Lasagna (pl. lasagne) is somewhat dual faced—both a form of pasta and the actual casserole made with that noodle. The pasta is broad, long and well suited to supine layering. The American version is usually rippled lengthwise on the edges while the true Italian noodle is customarily flat.

Not unlike ourselves, lasagna has a slightly fractured history. One school asserts that lasagna derives from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips, a word that still describes a Greek unleavened bread. Other linguists focus on the vessel itself and posit that the word lasagna comes from λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “chamber pot.” It follows, they say, that lasanum which is the Latin word for “cooking pot” became the precursor to today’s lasagna concept.

Seemed like a fairly benign etymology, until about a decade ago when the English laid claim to lasagna’s origins. You can only imagine the profound insult felt in the streets of Rome…that arms waving vitriol. Apparently, researchers claim that the court of Richard II was savoring lasagna as early as the 14th century. When pouring over the Forme of Curry, one of the first written cookbooks, they found a recipe for loseyn, pronounced “lasan.” In Middle English it reads something like this: Take a gode broth and do i an erthen pot, and do payndemayn and make pof paft with wat, and make pof thynne foyles as pap with a roller, drye it harde and feepe it i broth take Chefe ruayn and lay it in dish with powdo douce. and lay pon lofeyns ifode as hoole as poo mizt and above powdo and chefe, and fo thwyfe or thryfe, & sue it forth.

Did not the Romans occupy the English Isles for several centuries a millenium before Forme of Curry was compiled?

Back to the boot. It goes with saying that lasagna is a distinctly regional dish in Italy—a traditional Ligurian rendition differs from that found in Rome. Varying versions abound throughout home kitchens and restaurants here, there and elsewhere. For instance, this recipe does have some meat but does not have tomato sauce. So, beware those who use the phrase “authentic lasagna.” Just craft one with innards to your liking.

As with pizzas, paninis, and pasta, please avoid overburdening the lasagna between layers as the noodle should still play the leading role.

LAMB, CHARD & RICOTTA LASAGNA

1 lb lamb, freshly ground
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano, crumbled between fingers and thumb

2 1/2 C whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs thyme

6 T unsalted butter
5 T flour

Small grating of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 lb red-ribbed chard, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 lb green chard, stemmed and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 C shallots, peeled and chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves
3/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb dried lasagna noodles
Sea salt

8 oz semi soft cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Gruyère or Comté, freshly shredded
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated

16 oz whole milk ricotta

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the ricotta in a sieve positioned over a bowl about one hour. Discard liquid and set ricotta aside.

Lamb
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and smashed garlics. Stirring occasionally sauté lamb until medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard garlics. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of oregano to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Sauce Béchamel
Bring milk, bay leaf and thyme to a quiet simmer in a heavy, medium sauce pan.

In another heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly with a for 3-5 minutes to make a blond roux. Do not allow the roux to brown. Remove bay leaf and thyme from milk, gradually add to the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Then add a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until it coats a spoon, whisking throughout, about another 8-10 minutes. Set aside on a very low burner and keep gently warm for assembly later.

Chards & Mushrooms
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch chard for one minute, then drain, pressing out the water in a towel as you would with spinach. Chop coarsely. Heat olive oil and butter in heavy medium skillet. Sauté first the shallots and garlic for a few minutes, and then mushrooms for a few minutes more, until shallots and garlic are softened and the mushrooms are just tender. Add blanched, chopped chard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir again, allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Assembly
In a large pot of boiling and generously salted water, cook the lasagna until al dente. Drain well and dry, then layer the sheets carefully between clean paper towels for later.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the chard and mushroom mixture with the lamb.

(1) Spread one third of the béchamel on the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange the lasagne side by side, slightly overlapping, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the chard-mushroom-lamb mixture over the pasta. Then spread some ricotta in an even layer atop. Strew half of the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano over the ricotta.

(2) Repeat layers by arranging in an overlapping layer of lasagne in the pan. Then, add the remaining chard-mushroom-lamb mixture. Again, spread ricotta evenly over that layer. Then, add the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano. Spread another one third of béchamel sauce over the cheeses.

(3) Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets in a slightly overlapping fashion on top and spread with béchamel sauce once again.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil, place dish on a large baking sheet, and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.

To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.
~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

EGG NOODLES WITH SWISS CHARD, MUSTARD & COLLARD GREENS

So often, things you learn to cherish have been so long overlooked—yet they often hovered right under your nose. For me, Amish country noodles are one of the new found delicacies that fall squarely into that category. Where had you been all these years? My passion for these hearty durum wheat and egg noodles almost went unrequited, but finally has been stirred. Now, I feel an obligation to share the love for this side thang.

To make this beloved tryst complete, sautéed chard, mustard and collard greens are commingled, mated with the noodles. Introduce succulent braised lamb shanks or fleshy coq au vin for nestling, candlelit chiaroscuro, some sonorous Luther V. serenades and voila!…you have a perfectly seductive “cooking Amish au naturel” meal. Unless, of course, you are one of those lingerie fanatics in which case a seductive silk chemise may be your apron du jour. Some food for the mood.

1 lb thick Amish country egg noodles
3 C water
4 C chicken broth
2 T sea salt

1 small bunch collard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch mustard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch swiss chard (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano-reggiano, fresh grated

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring water and broth to a boil. Add sea salt, noodles and return to boil. Cook until just al dente, about 10-15 minutes, depending on noodle size.

Bring large stockpot of water to a boil; add greens. Cook for 15 minutes and drain well. Then in a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the greens and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and become wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. During the cooking process, season with the salt and pepper to taste. They should be peppery.

Drain the noodles well and add to the greens, tossing until they are married. Serve, lightly topped with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

The plan is to soon discuss that heralded yet often untold and misdirected story called Thanksgiving. Some mental notes have even been collected. As if you truly care. This culinary holiday has been historically butchered ever since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed turkey day a national holiday in October, 1863—the birthplace of and starting point for “surviving the holidays?” It has always been mystifying how Thanksgiving could be established right during the chaos of the Civil War…sandwiched between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and during the siege of Knoxville. A siege and a feast do not seem overly compatible.

I would surmise that Hallmark and other marketing and retailer wunderkinder played a central role in that ill conceived nexus between this week and Xmas. “Black Friday” 3 days henceforth? Sounds like a dark pilgrimage which is rather faux.

Before I launch into the Plymouth Rock conquistadors of 1621 A.D., this hasty side dish will have to suffice.

SWISS CHARD & SHALLOTS, ET. AL.

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 plump fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t red pepper flakes

3 bunches Swiss chard, rinsed well and dried
3 T apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut off and discard chard stems and any tough center ribs. Thinly slice leaves into ribbons.

Heat olive oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat. Add shallot, garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add chard, vinegar, salt and pepper, then continue cooking, tossing often, until wilted and softened, about 3-4 minutes.

Broccolini (A Cross Breed)

September 3, 2009

Forgive me this rare wholesome moment with visions of nutriments dancing in my head.

Baby broccoli it is not. Rather, broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and gai lan, also known as Chinese chard. With long stalks topped by dainty buds, the delicate flavor and texture is reminiscent of asparagus with a broccoli finish. Chocked with vitamin C, potassium, iron, fiber, and vitamin A, broccolini is a nutritious beast.

When cooking broccolini, brevity is the pursuit.

BROCCOLINI WITH LEMON & CAPERS

2 lbs fresh broccolini
Sea salt

3 T unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, zested
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 T capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 T balsamic vinegar (a mere splash)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the broccolini in a large pot of vigorously boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water to retain green. Remove from water and drain on paper towels so the broccolini does not become soggy.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the garlic and sauté until just lightly browned. Add the drained broccolini to the garlic and butter and cook until warm, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, capers and balsamic vinegar; season to taste with salt and the pepper, and toss before serving.

There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.
~Louis Diat

A member of the beet family and a prolific grower, chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) is wholly underappreciated. It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes. Chard comes in varying hues—red to white to multicolored—and can be served raw, sautéed, creamed…you name it.

Chard is a nutritional monarch, bringing to the table calcium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and beta carotene, as well as two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin).

SWISS CHARD WITH CURRANTS & GARLIC

4 T currants

2 lbs Swiss chard, stemmed, washed and drained
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Plump the currants by placing them in a bowl of hot water and soaking for 10 minutes, then drain well.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and add the chard. Cook until tender, about for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and immediately shock in aa bowl of ice water, then drain and squeeze out liquid. Chop very coarsely.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper and cook until garlic is lightly colored but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the chard and currants until well coated with oil and heated through, around 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, grate with parmigiano reggiano and serve.

Pourboire: the stalks should be saved and can be used in pastas or as an aside by themselves.