Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Andrea Chesman: A Garden Stalwart

Swiss chard is a garden stalwart. It likes water but takes a good measure of neglect. It is slow to bolt and reasonably fast to grow. You can harvest only the outer leaves, then enjoy a long season of chard eating, even past the first couple of light frosts. And with the rainbow chard variety, it is also a beauty. Actually, I think it is beautiful whether the stems be rainbowed, white, or red.

Raw, chopped rainbow Swiss chard

Chard’s botanical name is Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla, showing its close relationship with beets (Beta vulgaris). Its numerous other names are leaf beet, silverbeet, white beet, spinach beet, strawberry spinach, seakale, Sicilian beet, Chilean beet, and Roman kale. It has been cultivated at least since the era of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, so it has had time to spread around and acquire regional names. But by any name it is a terrific vegetable.

Like any other green, Swiss chard will wilt quickly and can be lightly cooked. But I think chard really comes into its own when baked or braised until the texture is silky and its full flavor has been coaxed out.

I recently noticed that when people flip through my book, Serving Up the Harvest, they often comment on a recipe for Braised Chard Pizza. Since the weather is a little cooler up here in Vermont, I risked turning on the oven recently for this tasty pizza.

Braised Chard Pizza 
Serves 6
Garlic-scented ricotta cheese makes a bed for silken Swiss chard in this lovely green-and-white pizza. 

 Assembled pizza

Baked pizza
Dough for two 10-inch pizzas 
2 pounds (12–16 stems with leaves) ruby, green, or rainbow chard, leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons and stems diced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Prepare the pizza dough, and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 
  2. Meanwhile, braise the chard. Combine the Swiss chard, oil, water, and onion in a large Dutch oven or large, wide saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook over medium heat until the chard is completely tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Drain well (but reserve the cooking liquid for flavoring stocks or soups or cooking grains).
  3. Preheat the oven to 500° F.
  4. Stir the garlic and oregano into the ricotta, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Lightly oil two 10-inch or 12-inch round pizza pans or two 12-by-15-inch baking pans. Divide the dough in half. Stretch each piece of dough to fit a prepared pan. Spread half the ricotta over each pizza crust. Spoon the chard on top of the ricotta. Top the pizza with the Parmesan.
  6. Bake the pizzas for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the Parmesan is melted.
  7. Slice, and serve warm.

Adapted from Serving Up the Harvest by Andrea Chesman © 2008.
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