I've always looked up to the gardener who, without a second of hesitation, can tell you all about a plant or flower you were admiring. You learn the plant's genus in perfect Latin and the common name, but of course it never is a "common" plant. Instead it's a rare species.
If I write the name of the plant on a tag, and I can find the tag, it's easy to pinpoint the name. Otherwise, I might stumble a bit. I'll say something like, "It's got the purple and pink flowers with little petals and smells great. I'll think of the name." Which I might remember, sometimes, at 5 a.m.
I was reminded of all this the other day when I was up at my neighbor Wendy's "borrowing" Swiss chard to test recipes for this column. Some chard recipes call for 2 pounds of the leafy greens. Maybe that's not a lot of chard if you're buying it at the store (except it's kind of expensive). Plus, often, the chard you buy is all grown up and has heavy, thick stems. But if it's your garden and the chard is still a bit small, instead of late-season huge leaves, picking 2 pounds pretty much wipes out the row. So I needed more chard.
In her garden, Wendy was sad her arugula was getting old and "hot" and I was cutting leaves of chard and pulling a weed here and there. We were chatting, not over mugs of coffee and plates of coffee cake, but over chard. It was a chard klatch.
Wendy's chard has multi-colored stems that are red-pink, gold and orange. Very decorative. "It's 'Northern Lights' Chard," she said as I got into my car to drive down the hill. "Isn't that right?"
I agreed, it sounded about right and didn't give it another thought.
A couple hours later I called her up and told her I'd remembered what the name really was, "'Bright Lights' chard."
"I knew 'Lights' was in there somewhere," she said.
I didn't plant 'Bright Lights' or 'Northern Lights' Swiss chard in my garden this year. I've got 'Fordhook Giant' chard, which is green with white stems, and on it's way to being large. There's also 'Rhubarb' chard, which looks like beets -- or maybe those were beets, as the two plants are closely related. And I'm growing 'Peppermint' chard, which has light pink and white stems, not as cool- looking as the name suggests. All doing well, especially now with this cooler weather and abundant rain.
I don't mean to brag (much), but I have to say, the garden is looking really great. The tomatoes are all in and caged and mulched, thanks to my husband, who often reminds me of how hardworking he is. And it's true. The peas are fenced and they have flowers, but they look rather short. Soon the new sprouts of cucumber and squash will be protected with row cover to keep them from the destructive squash bug and cucumber beetles. Most of the first crop of basil is planted and the onions have finally taken hold. The potatoes are flowering.
It's a working garden and it's orderly. A little shy on chard right now, though.
My chard and Wendy's chard will grow again, which is the beauty of it. Unlike spinach, which soon goes to seed. Unlike lettuce which doesn't survive well in hot weather. Chard keeps on. So they'll be plenty more chard to pick the next time I need to borrow some from Wendy, or just to go up the hill for a chat.
Chard with Potatoes and Bacon
This dish was sparked by a recipe from "Local Flavors." Author Deborah Madison, called for collard greens, but I used chard and changed the cooking method for this more tender green.
1 pound baby Yukon Gold or other small yellow-fleshed potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
3 to 4 pieces thick-sliced bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound chard, leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons and crosswise into smaller pieces, stems thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Put potatoes in large saucepan; add cold water to cover. Add big pinch salt, cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Drain potatoes and return to pan. Cover to keep warm.
Cook bacon in large heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp and browned. Remove with slotted spoon to drain. In drippings (you'll need about 3 tablespoons), cook onion and garlic, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add chard to drippings, in batches, stirring until all has been added. Add 1/2 cup potato cooking water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add potatoes and bacon (and a little more cooking water if necessary), cover and cook 3 more minutes to blend the flavors. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes 4 side-dish servings
-- Miriam Rubin
'Bright Lights' Chard Gratin
This rich, vegetarian main-dish or side would be welcome at a potluck. It takes a little work but it's special and a great way to use up a garden full of chard. This comes from Deborah Madison.
2 pounds 'Bright Lights' or other chard, including half of the stems (I used 1 1/2 pounds of small chard leaves with all the stems, it seemed to be plenty)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons chopped dill or parsley
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup milk or cream (I used part half-and-half and part heavy cream)
1 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used feta, goat cheese would be better)
For small chard leaves, slice greens into ribbons and then cut crosswise into pieces. Thinly slice stems and keep separate. If leaves are large, cut greens off center ribs and coarsely chop. Dice stems into small pieces, using only about half the stems.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in wide skillet over medium heat. Add onion and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has begun to brown a bit, about 15 minutes. Add chard leaves, in batches. When all have been added, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and cook until wilted and tender, another 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil 2-quart gratin dish. (I used a 9-inch, deep-dish pie plate.)
Melt 1 tablespoon of remaining butter in heavy, medium skillet; add bread crumbs, garlic and dill. Cook, stirring about 1 minute until fragrant, then scrape crumbs into bowl and return pan to heat. Add last tablespoon butter; stir in flour and whisk in milk or cream. Reduce heat to low, simmer 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until very thick. Add to chard. Stir in cheese, taste, correct for salt and season with pepper. (I added 2 tablespoons more cream to keep it liquidy.)
Pour into prepared dish; cover with bread crumbs. Bake until heated through and golden on surface, 20 to 25 minutes. Let settle a few minutes before serving.
Makes 4 main-dish, 6 side-dish servings.
-- Adapted from "Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets" by Deborah Madison (Broadway Books, 2002).
Stir-Fried Chard with Napa Cabbage
This recipe comes from "Wild About Greens" by Nava Atlas. Among the many helpful things you'll find in this vegan book are recipes created to work interchangeably with many different greens. Once a week, she says you might purchase a big bunch of kale, the next week it can be chard. She provides recipes that work with either, or both. She also highlights the nutritive values of leafy greens. They're good sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. She writes: "When it comes to nutrition, leafy greens often top the list of the most nutritious vegetables, and for good reason." Eat your chard!
10 to 12 ounces Swiss chard, leaves cut into thin ribbons, stems thinly sliced
1/2 medium head Napa cabbage, cut crosswise into thin ribbons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek, chopped and well washed (optional; I didn't use)
3 to 4 shallots, finely chopped
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Prepare all greens before starting.
Heat oil in work or stir-fry pan over medium heat. Add leek, if using, shallots and garlic and sauté over medium-low heat until all are golden.
Quickly stir in chard to coat with oil, in batches if necessary, then turn heat to high. Stir-fry for a minute or so, until greens shrink down, then add Napa cabbage. Continue to stir-fry until both are tender-crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Season with salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste and serve at once.
Makes 6 servings.
-- "Wild About Greens: 125 Delectable Vegan Recipes for Kale, Collards, Arugula, Bok Choy, and other Leafy Veggies Everyone Loves" by Nava Atlas (Sterling, 2012)
Stewed Chard with Tomatoes
This wonderful dish was inspired by a recipe from Martha Rose Shulman from the New York Times. She was inspired by Diane Kochila's book "The Greek Vegetarian." And on it goes, as we all inspire each other. I used small, baby chard leaves with tender stems so they almost melted and became silky. If your chard is larger and the stems are thick, cook it a bit longer with the water after sautéing it with the onion.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 pound Swiss chard, leaves cut into very thin ribbons, stems thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Freshly ground black pepper
In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, paprika and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add chard, in 2 batches, cooking and stirring until wilted. Add water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until chard is very tender and liquid has reduced, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add tomatoes and juices; reduce heat, cover and cook 10 minutes more, until chard is very tender and silky. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings.
-- Miriam Rubin
Miriam Rubin: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published June 13, 2013 4:00 AM