December 15th, 2014

Great GREENS

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My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.

We talked about some ideas—making kale pesto and kale chips, blanching and freezing chard, when I said, “I’ll take some off your hands. I’ll make some dishes with them. Then, come to dinner.”

Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.

Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.

Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.

Now, what to make?

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The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.

Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.

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You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.

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And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!

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I made two modifications.

The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.

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Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.

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SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons

Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.

Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings

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LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)

Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.

Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.

Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 15 Comments »




December 1st, 2009

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

plate of t-day food

Like many families, we have a number of “must-have” dishes at our holiday gathering—Thanksgiving being a time for traditions. There would be outcry if sage roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry-walnut relish, and sweet garlic smashed potatoes didn’t make their annual appearance on the table.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s good, here and there, to break from tradition, enliven the usual players, or introduce something different to the menu.

Three years ago we spent our most exotic Thanksgiving in the lakeside town of Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. On that sunny Thursday, Bill and I met up with daughter Madeleine at her work, and took a long walk to an old resort hotel on Lake Tana. There, we dined outdoors in a tropical-like setting: flora in full bloom, trees full of brilliantly colored birds, some clustered with sleeping bats.

For the area, it was a lovely, yet pricey hotel, frequented mainly by Europeans, and offered unremarkable food. Bill had eggs and dabo–a crusty yeasted bread. Madeleine, the more seasoned diner of our troupe, piled her plate from the buffet with lamb tibs, lentils, and a beefy wat. I had been battling a “stomach thing” and recall having penne with tomato sauce, injera with cooked greens and carrots, some sort of melon.

As it resembled Nothing of the big T-Day of our heritage, the three of us laughed and called it the “Anti-Thanksgiving.” Nevertheless, there we were, together, and happy.

Since that extreme Thanksgiving, I have become mindful of the significance of family traditions—and how sometimes it’s worthwhile to bust them up a bit.

chard-butternut gratin hero

This year, along with the traditional faves, I added a couple of new things. A Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap-pecan crust and cultured whipped cream. (post on this very soon!)

And this chard-butternut squash gratin, which was especially relished.

I was inspired by a Smitten Kitchen post that similarly paired sweet potatoes and chard in a gratin. Recognizing that while oh-so-different, there’s a great interchangeability of sweet potatoes and winter squashes in recipes. I chose to use my butternuts in the casserole.

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The colors from the ruby chard and roasted squash were vibrant.
The green onion bechamel richly brought the chard heat and butternut sweet together.

Overall Delectable–worthy of repeating—holidays and any days.

And, tricky. My mom thought that the cheesy spinach-potato casserole was awesome. And so different! I kept mum. My dad wouldn’t have touched the dish had he known that it contained no cheese, spinach, or potatoes.

Here’s to traditions: the cherished knowns, and those in the making.
Mostly, here’s to being together.

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

2 medium Butternuts, peeled, sliced thin
Olive Oil
1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, stemmed. Chop stems, and
Coarsely chop leaves. As cooking times vary, these will be cooked separately
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
Salt
Red Pepper Flakes (used in pinches–you decide how hot!)

roasting butternut slices

Lightly oil and roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the chopped chard stems in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet or saucepan for 7 minutes. (I used my now-beloved Fig LeCreuset! What ever did I do without it?)
Add minced garlic, and sprinkle with sea salt and red pepper flakes.
Add chopped chard leaves.
Stir well, then pour in white wine and vegetable stock.
Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, folding the leaves throughout the mix.
When the leaves are “cooked down” and tender, remove from heat.

sauteeing chard stems

Make bechamel sauce. Then, follow directions for the gratin assembly.

Green Onion-Chive Bechamel
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Green Onions (scallions) chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Chives
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 cups lowfat Milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté green onions in butter until softened, about three minutes. Add chives, then rapidly stir in flour, allowing it to slightly cook and coat the onions. Pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Gradually the flour-cooked onions will incorporate smoothly into the milk, and the sauce with form. Simmer as it thickens, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

saucing the gratin

Assembly
Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel.
Cover with a layer of roasted butternut squash rounds.
Then, add a layer of sauteed chard.
Top with bechamel.
Repeat–squash, chard, and top finish of bechamel.

Note: this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point.

Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, slightly longer, if it’s coming out of refrigeration–until sauce is bubbly and brown-edged.

Serves 10-12.

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Madeleine, Bill, and I at Tis Abay, where the Blue Nile, after exiting Lake Tana, plunges over a 45 meter rock gorge.

Posted in Recipes, Vegetables | 7 Comments »