I've been kind of slacking, a little lethargic with all that holiday food and trying to get back into the work mode (yesterday in the office was very very tough to get through). But really, my excuse for not posting something sooner is that I've been thinking about what recipe to write about over the last couple of days (really). Over New Year's, I'd been surrounded by so much good food, I couldn't decide what to write about! I made some thumbprint cookies--which were really more like index-finger-print cookies because I made them a little too small--for coworkers, and then there was this really yummy baked apple pancake a friend showed me how to make on New Year's Day while half-watching the Rose Bowl (missing most of the game turned out to be just fine since Penn State lost to USC, so sad), and then there was this beautiful fresh blueberry (yes, fresh blueberries in January! Imported from Chile, apparently) pie another friend made for a post-New Year's Day dinner--but I can't remember the name of the book the recipe came from... Now, as I sit here typing, though, with my belly distended and feeling like it could pop (and believe me, I'm not pregnant), I'm more and more convinced that I should probably start out 2009 with something other than a pastry and instead begin the new year with...a vegetable(!). I really hope I haven't disappointed you with that. It won't be so bad, I promise.
I'm kind of unlearned as far as vegetables go, spending more time making desserts than main courses. But until just a couple of months ago, I had never tried Swiss chard in my entire life. (I haven't lived an incredibly long life or anything, but I'm certainly beyond my teenage and college years during which my main diet consisted of burgers and pizza--though I still love both!) Swiss chard has always sounded a little fancy to me--so European (you know, "Swiss" and all), kind of bourgeois. And I didn't know what to do with those giant, tough green leaves. Then I read this article in The New York Times' Recipes for Health column that brought it down to my level, made it more approachable, and I learned that Swiss chard doesn't really have much to do with Switzerland at all.
I scoped out the Saturday Farmer's Market where I live and found the swiss chard (which was not a difficult to do since it was, and still is, in season). It was only a dollar for a nice big bunch! And they also came with different colored stalks, instead of all green, which made them look so pretty. I felt kind of accomplished making my first purchase of swiss chard and it was such a deal! (I kind of get excited about good deals.) I brought my swiss chard home, carefully washed the dirt off the leaves and stems, chopped them up and made the Swiss Chard and Red Pepper Gratin recipe that was published in The New York Times article (with some slight variations). It baked up so beautifully, like a frittata, with all the colors reflective of fall that made me feel so...well...warm and fuzzy. The Swiss chard also had a mild flavor, though somewhat similar to spinach, but didn't leave that gritty film on my teeth the way spinach does. I made the gratin again recently for the post-New Year's Day dinner, and everyone really enjoyed it (at least that's what they said, maybe they were being nice, but I'd like to think they were being honest). Swiss chard is now my new favorite vegetable.
Swiss Chard and Red Pepper Gratin
(adapted from The New York Times recipe)
Serves about 6 as a side dish
About 1-1/2 pounds of Swiss chard
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1/4 pound of Gruyere cheese (or other similar type of cheese, like robusto), shredded
1/2 cup of brown rice (the original recipe calls for arborio rice)
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup of low fat milk
1/2 t. dried thyme (or 1 t. of fresh thyme)
1 t. salt (or to taste)
1/2 t. pepper (or to taste)
2 T. bread crumbs
Wash the Swiss chard thoroughly, and trim the leaves from the stalks. Cut the stalk into 1" pieces, and roughly chop the leaves. Divide the leaves from the stalks. The original recipe calls for blanching the Swiss chard before stir frying, but I skip this step to save time. In a pot, over medium heat, stir fry the onions in olive oil until fragrant. Add the garlic and stir fry for another minute or so, then add the chopped Swiss chard stalks, red pepper, salt and pepper and continue to stir fry until the vegetables turn a little tender. Gradually mix in the Swiss chard leaves in bunches and stir constantly until the leaves wilt. Remove the pot from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Grease a 5"x7" casserole dish with olive oil.
Mix the cheese into the vegetables in the pot. Beat the milk into the eggs in a separate small bowl, and pour the mixture into the pot, then add the rice and thyme. Mix the ingredients together in the pot, then pour it into the casserole dish, light patting down the vegetables to create an even surface. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, until the top browns. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes. The New York Times says it can be served warm or at room temperature, but I prefer it served warm.
Now that you've sat through my dirge on how great Swiss chard is, here are photos of the baked apple pancake and the blueberry pie as a treat. Mmm...