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Featured in Foothill Magazine

Swiss chard in springtime

By: Tessa Marguerite, Reporter/Page Designer
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Swiss chard has to be one of the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen. Its large, green leaves are ribbed with veins of pink, purple or red that run down to the pearly white or colored stem. Since I rarely eat Swiss chard, and have never cooked with it, I decided to try something completely new and different with a Swiss chard and tomato casserole.

Swiss chard is in season right now and will be throughout summer — as will other leafy greens such as kale and arugula — so it will likely be at any farmers’ market in your area. I love going to the farmers’ market that’s just four blocks from where I live and buying vegetables fresh from the ground. But since that market is only once a week, I find myself at Safeway quite often. Wandering the produce section, I spotted the vibrant Swiss chard in the organic section and began perusing for the two bunches that looked just right for my casserole. Sometimes when I’m at the grocery store gathering ingredients for my next recipe, I wonder about where my food is coming from. I began thinking about what it really meant for produce to be “organic” and later learned (from Goolging it, yes) that the definition is this: Grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation.

Sewage sludge? OK, well that alone makes me want to grow all my own produce or buy organic everything. Following this discovery, I bought a little tomato plant so that I could grow my very own tomatoes in my backyard. I’m nowhere near being a gardener, so they may end up black and shriveled in the dirt — but I am a very hopeful person, so maybe they’ll be awesome.

Since I have never cooked with Swiss chard and don’t make too many casseroles, this recipe was destined to be an adventure. Swiss chard is also sometimes called silver beet, perpetual spinach, beet spinach or sea kale beet. Although it is quite firm, the stems of Swiss chard soften quickly in a pot of boiling water. When making the casserole, be careful not to let them soften too much, as the chard, and other ingredients still, have an hour to go in the oven surrounded by bubbling cheese, broth and bread. Speaking of bread, the French bread loaf does not necessarily need to be a day-old, but it will soak up the broth a little better if it is drier. Sometimes small bakeries sell day-old bread or end-of-the-day bread for a discounted price.

Layering the casserole is the fun part, and kids can help, too. But before the layering starts, don’t forget to butter the dish. I usually just get a bit of butter on a paper towel and run it along the bottom and edges of the dish. A butter spray will work just as well. When that’s done, the first step of the layering is placing the sliced French bread in the bottom of the dish so that it covers, or nearly covers, the dish. If some of the pieces are overlapping that’s fine. Next, add some color with thick slices of tomato. Topping the tomato will the chard mixture with tomatoes and onions. Then comes the shredded cheese. Feel free to use more or less of the gruyere, according to your own taste and preference.

After you have repeated the layering steps one more time, and finished with bread on top, slowly pour the hot broth over the casserole. Be sure to douse each top piece of bread or it will burn. Pressing down the casserole will push out any air pockets ensures even baking in the oven. Brushing the top with melted butter will make the final result a bit crispier on top. Then just cover it with a piece of foil and leave it to bake for an hour.

This recipe is a good one for if you’re having a few people over or just looking for something new. If made with vegetable broth, it is vegetarian, and can be made vegan by omitting the butter. Savor each warm, melty bite, and pair with a dry, white wine — I used the wine that was in the recipe. Enjoy a meal that tastes as good as Swiss chard looks with this delicious, savory casserole.

Swiss chard and tomato casserole
Ingredients

  • 2 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • Pepper
  • 2 cups chicken, beef or vegetable broth
  • One loaf of day-old French bread, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (3 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the Swiss chard for two minutes; drain. When the leaves are cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Coarsely chop the chard. 
  2. In the same pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, mushrooms and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened; about 12 minutes. Add the chard and the wine and simmer over medium-high heat until the wine is reduced to 1/4 cup; about 5 minutes. Season with pepper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  4. In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Butter the casserole dish. Line the bottom of the dish with one-third of the bread, overlapping the slices slightly and cutting the bread to fit. Top with half of the tomato slices and season with salt and pepper. Spread half of the chard on top, and then sprinkle with half of the cheese. Repeat the layering once and finish with the remaining bread. Pour the hot stock over the casserole and press down with a spatula. Brush the top with the melted butter (optional).
  5. Cover with foil and bake for one hour. Uncover the dish and bake for about 10 minutes longer until the top is browned and crisp. Let cool before serving.