Dirt is not a condiment.
The good thing about Swiss Chard is the problem with it. Though increasingly available in chain markets, like Kroger, chard is more likely a farmer’s market item. That means those gorgeous bouquets you pick up are going to be sandy, dirty, in need of 2-3 rinses before you cook them.
Lately we’ve been buying chard from Brandon and Jan, a couple growers who come to Detroit’s Eastern Market. They must have a Maytag for chard back at the farm because their bouquets, in addition to being giant and in addition to being very reasonably priced, are totally clean. Just out of habit, while trimming the ends and cutting off the stems, I run water and rinse them in the sink, but it’s more symbolic than purposeful.
Like the San Marino ladies who have been my patient and generous teachers, including my wife, of course, including mother-in-law, molto of course, including her friends, and including the women I chat with at the fruit and veg stands back in Italy and San Marino, I’ve learned to mix chard and cabbage. It’s about the savor factor. But it’s also about economy, plain and simple.
A bundle of chard trimmed, blanched, and chopped produces a ball of chard the size of a softball. Talk about shrinkage. A moderately sized savoy cabbage produces 3-4 times that volume. So you mix. The italian expression–lungare–you “lengthen,” you make the chard go further.
This all seems like a lot of work at first. I guess it is. But it’s worth it.
While rinsing, I put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Chop the chard, blanch it. When the water comes back to a boil, I consider that blanched. Same with the cabbage. Half a head of the savoy (Italians call it verza), chopped and blanched. I blanch them separately. It’s a space issue. How many sinks do you have? How much counter space?
Sidebar: I have been known to chop chard and verza and dump it directly into warmed olive oil in a frying pan, skipping the blanch stage. One of Tizi’s cousins, Attilio, when he heard this, made a point of correcting me. “Boil first. You’ll taste the difference. Listen to me. Sta sentire a me!
Shown here, chopped chard, a third of the total amount from one bunch (the rest go in the fridge for future use), and chopped verza, about half a cabbage.
The mix is cooked in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil with 2-3 cloves of garlic lightly sauteed first. I’ll add more oil as they cook. And salt. And probably a little more oil to taste.
In Italy you ask for erbe di compagna. In the dead of winter, that might mean spinach. In the spring, it probably means what’s growing on hillsides nearby. Summer and fall you’ll get Swiss Chard and bietole and boragine.
Cooked in a frying pan. Saltati in padella. Wonderful served with sausage.