six days of feasting, all
notes from maggie's farm
Today, I am grateful for swiss chard.
Yeah, really. Swiss Chard. Swiss chard is the workhorse of the garden. Swiss Chard is indestructible. Swiss Chard is chockful of wholesome, healthy goodness, and my family loves (this particular magic with) Swiss Chard.
Swiss Chard makes me look good.
Swiss Chard: This is the only vegetable we consider fool-proof. You would have a hard time killing swiss chard with a black thumb. Really. Plant it in the fall or early spring. Swiss chard can live through freezing weather or boiling summer heat. You will have to water it in the summer. Most insects don't like it. Most diseases don't affect it. We have had all the plants around it eaten by pests, while the swiss chard lived on unaffected. You may be wondering what to do with it. Use it in salads or lightly steam it like spinach. It is good for you too. Swiss chard can live several years. Don't pull up the whole plant; just harvest the leaves you want and it will make more leaves for the next time. Swiss chard sometimes will develop a stalk and can get a few feet high in a couple of years. courtesy of centraltexasgardening.net
swiss chard gratin with bacon and caramelized onions
just click on the picture for a larger view, if you're anywhere near as
close to being a blind-as-a-bat cook/writer/photog/farmer, like your's truly.
To prepare: mise en place
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter, or grease individual gratin or souffle dishes, or one large gratin or casserole.
Destem chard by grasping leaves in one hand, and pulling stem up (see picture below). Some small stem will remain, and that is fine. (Reserve the stems for a quick saute for another time, or compost. They will not lend themselves well to a vegetable stock, as they have a strong flavor. Leaves, however, will.) Rinse chard in two or three changes of cool water. Wrap in paper toweling to pat dry, well.
Remove largest amount of visible fat from 1/2 to 1 pound of thick-sliced bacon (you know that whole 2 inches they seem to throw in there on the ends.....). I'm going to leave you with the decision on the amount, but it IS the holidays, darnit, and I'm using a pound. Slice crosswise across slab into 1/4" wide lardons.
Wash mushrooms by wiping with wet toweling, and slice about 1/4 to 1/2'' thick. If you're a mushroom lover like myself, consider quartering them instead, for a larger, meatier mushroom bite.
Slice onions and use this method to caramelize them. I used a nonstick pan to reduce the amount of fat used to about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. A certain farmer requested they be kept al dente (okay, he said 'a little crisp') so I've stopped short of the complete caramelization with about half of them. If it were just me, they'd all be that luscious golden brown.
Peel and mince garlic. Measure and set aside cider vinegar. Collect seasonings.
Prepare swiss-gruyere mornay sauce: This quantity will make enough for your gratin, and about 1 and 1/2 cups left to do with as you will. We'll use the leftovers later this week.
ingredients: 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, 1/2 cup of flour, 1quart half and half, (I've used fat-free half and half and it's not half bad. haha...see what I did there?) 1 cup heavy cream (yeah, there's no fat free version, but if you must, you can reduce the fat (and flavor!) with a substitution of whole milk. 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more, to taste (cream eats up salt. even with cheese in it.), 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, a few pinches freshly grated nutmeg (optional, but enhances any cream sauce), 8 oz grated gruyere, and 8 oz grated swiss.
And now, we're going to hand the mic over to Emeril, who's a whizz at all things saucy: In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is pale yellow and frothy, about 1 minute. Do not allow the roux to brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. This is now called a bechamel sauce, and may be used as is to top any number of dishes. Stir in the cheese and whisk until melted. If the sauce seems to thick, thin with a littlePrepare toasted herb bread crumb topping. This is another component that I like to make more of, to use with dishes made later in the week. Make your macaroni and cheese SING with this topping.
milkheavy cream. okay, milk if you insist (cream, cream, cream, cream......) The sauce is now called a mornay sauce . Pour over vegetables and serve immediately. If not using right away, cool, cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several days.
Slowly melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet. Add 1 cup plain bread crumbs, and 1 cup panko bread crumbs. Season with 1 teaspoon herbes de provence, or dried herbs of your choice, such as thyme, marjoram, chervil, tarragon, basil, sage, or any combination, thereof. Add 1/4-1/2 cup chopped pecans. Toss frequently, under medium heat, until crumbs are golden and crisp.
Okay, you're ready. This part goes pretty fast. Render bacon lardon in a dutch oven. Remove. Reserve all but one tablespoon bacon drippings to a dish, set aside. Saute mushrooms in (the remaining 1T) drippings until softened and brown. Remove. Saute garlic for 1-2 minutes (don't burn the garlic! it will ruin the whole dish. sound like I've burned the garlic before?) Wilt chard in 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, adding large handfuls as they cook down in the dutch oven. When all have fit and wilted, add cider vinegar, and season to taste with salt, cayenne, and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir in all caramelized onions (alternatively, you may use them as topping--see below), then 3 cups, more or less, of mornay sauce. (more or less? What do I mean by more or less? Well, you know how ingredients behave. What we're going for is to be well blended, but not overly soupy. You don't want this swimming in sauce.) Transfer to prepared dish(es).
If making one large casserole, bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbling. If individual dishes are prepared, 25 minutes should be sufficient. Top with toasted bread crumb mixture, and dot with caramelized onion if you chose to omit stirring them in, above. Optionally, grate a little parmesan cheese atop. Return to oven and bake until golden brown. Remove, and let cool approximately 15 minutes, to allow sauce to thicken, prior to serving.
Voila! It's not really difficult. Don't be put off by the length of all this. I've been rather wordy. Pat yourself on the back. They (and, most importantly, YOU) are going to love it.
And about your evening carol...
Swiss Chard has very little to do with Switzerland, The word "Swiss" was used to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties by 19th century seed catalog publishers. It is very popular among Mediterranean cooks. The first varieties have been traced back to Sicily. However in keeping with it's etymological origin, we celebrate Swiss Chard with our evening carols, tonight, with these two precious fellas singing a traditional Swiss carol. Yeah, I don't know the name of it. But they're both so darned cute.