Swiss chard is no exception. Of all the bitter greens you’ll find at the market, swiss chard is the mildest and the prettiest. Rainbow chard is the most common variety, simply because it’s so pretty. Red, white and yellow stalks wink at you as they snake up the center of the phenomenonally large, deep green leaves. Look for fresh looking leaves with slightly firm stalks – ignore a few rips, tears, or bug holes. Chard leaves aren’t as hearty as something tougher like kale, so they do rip easily. The stalks do bend a little, but they shouldn’t be bending on their own or wilting. The leaves can range from almost purple in the red varieties to kelly green in the yellow or white, so look for those signature brightly colored veins, rhubarb-like stalks, and wide, soft leaves.
Chard is slightly sweet as greens go and a little nutty. (I feel like I should make some sort of vaudevillian pun here. I’ll resist the urge.) Because it’s a little milder, it can sneak its way in to almost any recipe, though it really shines with other fall vegetables – winter squashes and pumpkins, walnuts, root vegetables. I had planned to use this chard in a sneaky green way by slicing it up very fine, mixing with ricotta, stuffing it into giant pasta shells, covering with sauce and cheese, and baking. But we had our very first fall day in Los Angeles last week – cold and rainy and absolutely delightful – and I wanted something far more Autumnal. (I don’t think that word means what I think it means… Autumn-y? Sure.) So instead, I made a Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin. I made enough for the husband and I to have some for dinner, to save some for the toddler for tomorrow’s lunch, and maybe even a little leftover for my lunch. No dice. We ate the whole pan. Oops.
This is not a real gratin because there’s no bechamel. I like to think of it as lazy (wo)man’s gratin – mix ricotta with another soft cheese or a splash of whole milk and you have something not at all as rich and delicious as bechamel, but serviceable and super fast for a work night supper.
- Sweet potatoes – I used 3 smallish/medium-sized for a 2 1/2 qt oval casserole dish, but if I’d used the giant ones in the bag I might have only used one. You’ll have to eyeball. And yes, botanically I think these orange ones are yams, but I call ‘em like they’re labeled.
- Swiss chard (I used 4 or 5 giant leaves)
- Ricotta (I used about 1 cup)
- Goat cheese (I used about 3 inches from a goat cheese log) – as above, if you don’t like goat cheese, you can sub in something else like farmer’s cheese – very mild – or just a splash of whole milk to thin it out
- Cheddar or other melting cheese (I used about 2 oz)
- 1-2 slices bacon (If you’re lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s, get the bag of Ends and Pieces – a steal at something like $2.99 a pound and perfect for recipes in which you’re cutting up the bacon anyway.)
- olive oil
Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces and fry until almost crispy. Preheat oven to 400.Slice the sweet potatoes into long, thin slices. Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of your dish to coat. Layer one layer of sweet potato into the dish.
Place the goat cheese in a bowl in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to soften (not melt). Mix thoroughly with ricotta. Using about half the mixture, dollop spoonfuls on top of the chard and use the back of the spoon to spread them over the layer.
Place the rest of the chard on top. Layer another layer of sweet potatoes to cover. Spread the remainder of the ricotta mixture on the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining bacon. Grate the cheese or break into chunks and disperse over top to cover up any “holes.” Bake at 400 until sweet potatoes are soft when stabbed with a fork and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.
Trim? Yes, at the bottom of the stalk where it gets tough and splintered, though some people lose the whole portion below the leaves as well.
Edible when raw? Yes, when young. It’s very chewy, however, so if you get large/older leaves, definitely cook the stalks, and probably the leaves as well.
Worth the price of organic? Yes. Greens are generally considered high on the Organic Preferred list.
In season: Fall, Winter.
Best with: Fall foods – winter squashes, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, even apples and dried fruit like raisins. Walnuts, pecans, bacon or sausage for protein – earthy, smokier flavors do well. Garlic, carmelized onions, goat cheese – sweeter flavors complement the greens’ slight sweetness.
How to Store: Like other greens, wash in warm water, give them a cold bath, and store in the fridge for a few days or possibly as long as a week, though that’s pushing it.