I gained new respect for my Mom after moving in with Kim and assuming the daily duty of putting a balanced nutritious meal on the table every day after coming home from work. My Mom did it every day and even if it was leftovers or our favorite “Chicken Glop” it was always good. One of the vegetables she cooked that I seldom saw in the supermarkets until more recently was swiss chard, which is like spinach with soul. Mom had a flair for winging it and if there was no milk in the house and she was in the mood for something creamed she would improvise a cream sauce with Coffee Mate. While I am not recommending this method I remember it being quite good in my child’s eye and when Kim expressed an affinity for swiss chard I harkened back to the creamed chard my mom would make and decided to apply my culinary skills to coming up with a good recipe. It took a little bit of work but this recipe will amaze your guests who probably don’t get this delectable green all that often, unless you are hanging around with the right people in which case they will love you all the more.
Creamed Swiss Chard Au Gratin
1 tbs flour
1 tbs butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
3/4 cup milk
A grating of fresh grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large bunch of Swiss Chard, about a pound and a half
2 tbs dried bread crumbs
2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
Remove the stems from the chard and wash it in a sink full of cold water and let it float for a few minutes, allowing any dirt or grit to settle to the bottom. While the chard is soaking make a light roux with the flour and butter in a skillet cooking for about 3 minutes on low heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook over low heat being careful not to brown the roux or burn the garlic. If you manage to get young chard the stems are quite good and can be diced like celery and added to the roux with the shallot and garlic and an extra bit of butter. When the shallot becomes translucent whisk in the milk and cook over low heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. This should be much thicker than a normal bechamel and you will see why when the dish starts to come together. Drain the chard and dry thoroughly and cut into 1″ wide strips across the leaves. Turn the heat up to medium high and wilt the chard for 1 to 2 minutes only. When the chard starts to release it’s moisture it will begin to thin the white sauce to the proper consistency and imbue it with that unique chardy goodness. Put the chard and sauce into a shallow baking dish and then give it a grating of nutmeg. Normally nutmeg goes in the bechamel but I like it over the top to kind of give the topping a more mysterious quality. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until it is bubbly and the topping is browned, about 15 or 20 minutes but keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn.
Put it on the table and don’t tell your guests exactly what it is. They will assume it is creamed spinach until the first bite goes in their mouths and they will say something like “ooooh man that is good, what is this delicious vegetable” and you can tell them that Pink Floyd sang about it on the Animals album, you know, ha ha a chard you are. They may just believe you because this one is truly: