For gardening cooks, chard is as much fun to grow as it is to eat.
A favorite in Mediterranean cuisine, this nutritious vegetable also is a perfect edible ornamental in the winter garden. Its attractive leaves can form a dramatic backdrop to annual flowers as well as a ready source for tasty greens.
Claire Splan, Bay Area garden blogger ( An Alameda Garden) and author of California Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $22.99, 256 pages), regularly grows chard.
There isnt much to not like about chard, Splan said. Its very easy to grow and, even though its grown as an annual, if you harvest only the outer leaves, you can keep the plants growing for well over a year in milder climates (such as ours).
I also like that some of the newer varieties with colored stems actually look pretty in the garden, so you can stick them in here and there among ornamentals, she continued. Its also very nutritious, containing vitamins A, C, and E, plus fiber, magnesium, manganese and potassium. That much nutrition packed into a plant that takes up little garden space and provides an ongoing harvest makes it a really high-value plant, in my opinion.
Although chard varieties can look very different, they all taste pretty much alike.
Said Splan, I dont find any real difference in flavor with the varieties Ive tried, so I prefer the more colorful varieties for their eye-appeal. Bright Lights, Neon Glow, Neon Lights and Garden Rainbow are all mixed-color varieties with stalks of red, pink and gold. Renees Garden Seeds has a new variety this year called Peppermint Stick with hot pink and white striped stalks Im anxious to try that one.
Whether from the garden or the farm, chard is on the rise nationwide. Expect to see more chard on menus.
Chard hits two major trends (for 2014), said Christopher Krohn, president of the dining deals site Restaurant.com, which features more than 15,000 restaurants. Its a superfood, in the same family as kale, (and) its closely related to beets. But it also hits the Mediterranean trend; chard is very popular in Mediterranean cooking.
In restaurants, were (primarily) seeing chard two different ways baby chard leaves in salads or (mature chard) cooked as a side dish or ingredient like traditional spinach, Krohn added. It can show up anywhere from soups to entrees.
Besides flexibility, chard has another asset: color.
Chard looks very pretty, Krohn said. It has these wonderful multicolor stalks. As a garnish, it automatically adds color to the plate.
Remember when kale was just a garnish?
Kathryn Anible, a Brooklyn-based nutritionist and personal chef, loves chard, too. Its among the star ingredients in her new book, The Leafy Greens Cookbook (Ulysses Press, $15.95, 130 pages).
All of my clients like to eat healthier, Anible said in a phone interview. Ive tried to integrate vegetables (into meals) in as many ways as possible. The cookbook was a great way to showcase some of these ways and make leafy greens more user-friendly. A lot of families dont eat enough vegetables. These are familiar ways to try something new.
Many people view chard like its cousin, collards, as something best slow-cooked for hours (preferably with bacon or ham hock). But that can be impractical for busy modern families, and doesnt do justice to chards versatility.
Instead, think of chard as two vegetables in one. Treat the central rib like celery, the leafy greens as spinach. (Just remember: If that rib is red, it will bleed like beets.) When using both leaves and ribs, allow the ribs more cooking time.
Anible tucks chard into breakfast burritos and quiche and adds it to fish baked in paper. She saves the red stems for strawberry-chard smoothies.
What I like best about chard is its color, Anible said. It makes something a little more special. Instead of just green, youve got gorgeous red, gold, pink, yellow and, of course, white.
Chard can substitute for kale in some dishes. It has a slightly different flavor, she said. My favorite chard recipe is the simplest. I sauté it, stems first, with a little garlic and onion, salt and pepper. Thats a total win fast and easy. And it preserves the beautiful color.
Splan also sticks to basics with her chard crop. She picks leaves as she needs them.
I keep things simple, she said. I usually just sauté chopped-up chard with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and salt. That mixed with pasta or served with a grilled chicken breast is a fast meal. I also like to just throw some chard in a pot of chicken stock with some fresh tortellini for a very quick soup.
For salads, Anible recommends baby chard. One of her favorites is the chard panzanella featured in her cookbook.
Baby chard has a way more mild flavor than mature leaves, and the texture is like lettuce, she said. Its really fun and packed with nutrients.
Colorful chard is readily available in farmers markets, but Splan urges gardeners to try and grow some, too.
Chard will work in just about every type of California garden, Splan said. It grows in containers as well as it does in the ground. It can handle partial shade. It can handle light frosts. You can plant it almost any time of year. Its not fussy and it doesnt have major pest problems.
Growing your own chard has another benefit: Its cheap.
A pack of seeds that will cost less than $3 will give you a substantial, healthy harvest for many months, if not longer, Splan said. I cant think of another edible plant that is quite so easy and so versatile.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Serves 2, generously
Recipe from J.M. Hirsch of The Associated Press. He says the chicken broth is the key to giving the polenta its depth.
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 bunch chard, roughly chopped (with stems)
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ pound thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup instant polenta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chard and garlic and sauté until the greens are wilted, about another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir the prosciutto into the chard and onions, then cover and set aside.
When the broth has boiled, add the polenta in a slow stream while whisking vigorously. Continue whisking until the polenta thickens, about 1 minute. Add the Parmesan and whisk to combine.
To serve, spread half of the polenta over a dinner plate, then mound half of the chard and prosciutto over it. Season with pepper.
Spaghetti with chard, mushrooms and pine nuts
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large bunch chard, stems removed, rinsed, chopped, about 6 cups
1 package (8 ounces) sliced white mushrooms
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, see note below
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook garlic until golden, about 2 minutes, stirring often.
Add chard; toss to coat with oil. Cover, simmer until the leaves wilt, 5 minutes. Uncover; raise heat. Cook until any water evaporates. Remove chard from pan; set aside.
Pour remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil in pan; heat. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring often, until browned, about 5-8 minutes. Return chard to skillet; add pine nuts. Turn heat to low; cook to let flavors mingle, about 1 minute. Put pasta in a serving bowl; top with chard mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.
Note: Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 5 minutes.
Per serving: 641 calories; 23 percent of calories from fat; 16 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 92 g carbohydrates; 32 g protein; 258 mg sodium; 8 g fiber.
Spanish-style chard with white beans on toast
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
This dish uses the stems from Swiss chard as part of a nontraditional take on sofrito, the aromatic base used to season sauces and braised dishes in Spain. Almonds add texture, pimenton brings a little smoky flavor and sherry vinegar brightens the mixture. The dish can stop there if you are eating it as a side or collection of small plates, or you can scoop it onto toast smeared with a quick white bean purée and add a poached egg for an all-in-one meal.
Make ahead: The sofrito can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. The beans can be pureed and refrigerated for up to 1 week. The eggs can be poached and stored in water in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press, $24.99, 204 pages).
2 pounds green Swiss chard
2 cloves garlic, each cut in half
1 small onion, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup roasted unsalted almonds
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimenton dulce)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup cooked or canned no-salt-added white beans (if using canned, drain and rinse)
1 tablespoon water or bean cooking liquid
4 large pieces rustic wheat bread, toasted
4 large eggs, poached and warm (optional)
Several grinds black pepper
Strip the chard leaves from their stems; thoroughly rinse and dry the stems and leaves, reserving the stems separately. Stack the leaves, roll them tightly and cut them crosswise into thin slices.
Cut the stems into big pieces and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, onion, almonds, sweet smoked paprika and the 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt; pulse to form a slightly chunky paste.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chard stem-almond mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces of stem lose a little of their crunch and much of the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Pile the sliced chard leaves on top, pour over the sherry vinegar, cover and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the leaves have wilted, a few minutes, then use tongs to stir and blend the mixture.
Wipe out the food processor bowl. Pour in the beans and water or cooking liquid and sprinkle with a little sea salt to taste. Process until smooth.
Spread a quarter of the bean mixture on each piece of toast, set the toast in serving bowls, then spoon the chard mixture over the toast. Top each portion with a poached egg, if desired, and sprinkle with sea salt to taste and a generous grinding of black pepper.
Per serving: 370 calories; 17 g protein; 48 g carbohydrates; 15 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 940 mg sodium; 12 g dietary fiber; 7 g sugar.
Slow cooker risotto with Swiss chard
Serves 6 to 8
Recipe developed for The Kansas City Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
Two 14-ounce cans fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 bunch Swiss chard, rinsed clean, well dried and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat oil in small skillet. Add onion and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Place in slow cooker. Add rice and toss well to coat. Stir in chicken broth, wine, salt and Swiss chard. Cover and cook on high 2 to 21/2 hours or until all liquid is absorbed. Stir in cheese and serve.
Per serving, based on 6: 209 calories (16 percent from fat); 4 g total fat (1 gram saturated); 3 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrates; 11 g protein; 413 mg sodium; trace dietary fiber.
Per serving, based on 6, with Parmesan cheese: 219 calories (18 percent from fat); 4 g total fat (2 g saturated); 5 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrates; 12 g protein; 454 mg sodium; trace dietary fiber.
Panzanella is an Italian salad made with bread and tomatoes. This version gets a kick of color and flavor by adding chard. Its from Kathryn Anibles The Leafy Greens Cookbook (Ulysses Press, $15.95, 130 pages).
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 large slices crusty bread, such as ciabatta
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1⁄4 cup basil leaves, chopped
3 cups loosely packed de-stemmed, chopped chard leaves
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon agave nectar or light honey
Preheat a grill or medium skillet over medium heat. Brush 2 tablespoons of the olive oil onto the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the bread, turning once, until lightly charred on each side. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, slice into 1-inch cubes.
Mix together the cherry tomatoes, basil and chopped chard leaves. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons more olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar, and the garlic and agave or honey. Add the dressing to chard mixture and massage it into the leaves to gently bruise the leaves and evenly coat them with dressing. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, add the charred bread cubes, and gently toss together.
Allow the salad to sit for 10 minutes before serving, so the bread can absorb a small amount of dressing, but dont let it get soggy. The salad is best eaten within 2 hours.
Call The Bees Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.