Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Or stems, if you prefer.

No, not pork ribs, or human stems--nothing quite so decadent. But stay with me. It's just that--now that you are addicted to Swiss chard I bet you are wondering what to do with all those chard middles languishing in your crisper drawer. Am I right?

I am here to help you out.

Well, I'm doing my best anyway. I'm going to tell you up front. My husband's comment on this dish was "I'm glad we're using up the chard stems." As you know, what I'm really aiming for here is more like "Hot damn! Chard stems for dinner!"

And this wasn't quite that. But it has potential, and I think my main mistake was being in too much of a hurry. I recommend that you cook the chard stems until they're downright silky. I took them off the heat when they were still rather crisp and celery-ish.

Give it a try--just be patient.

Swiss Chard Ribs with Goat Cheese and Pasta
Adapted/elaborated from Simply Recipes

Ribs from 2 bunches of Swiss chard
2 Tbsp butter
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 C half-and-half
about 8 oz. dry pasta
3 oz.or so fresh chevre
Salt and pepper

Put a large saucepan or soup pot of salted water on to boil. Wash the chard ribs, trim them, and chop into large-ish pieces. When the water boils, blanch the chard ribs for 3 to 5 minutes. Lift them out with tongs and drain them in a colander. (I know that sounds really specific, but the point is you can save the water to boil your pasta in.)

When the chard ribs are cool enough to handle, chop them into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. Heat the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Peel the garlic and press it into the skillet. Saute for a minute or two, then add the chard ribs and saute for a few minutes more. Now add the cream, cover the skillet, turn down the heat, and really just braise the heck out of those chard ribs. Add a little more cream, stock, or water if the skillet gets too dry.

Meanwhile turn on the flame under your pan of water again, and when it returns to a boil add the pasta. Drain when it's al dente.

When the chard ribs are nice and silky, add the drained pasta to the skillet, along with the chevre (crumble it up into little pieces). Toss to heat through and combine, and season with salt and pepper.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

green day

I'm at most 3 or 4 percent Irish. I was going to say 0 percent, but then I remembered that my grandmother once described her mother as "a duke's mix"--by which I gathered she meant some amalgam of English/Scotch/Irish, though it turns out that the phrase "a duke's mixture" has a more general, and quite fascinating, definition.

(Also, now I want this Duke Ellington CD. Just on principle.)

Anyway I'm certainly 0 percent Irish Catholic. (My great-grandmother must have been vehemently Protestant, else my Dutch Calvinist great-grandfather would never have married her. I'm just reporting, not endorsing, you understand.) I'm sure you know where I'm going with this: St. Patrick's Day has never been a big deal in my household. Still, eating more greens is something I can get behind any day of the year.

Originally, the recipe below was the sauce for a baked chicken dish called Chicken Ala Maria (doesn't that just sound hopelessly '80s?) that we ate fairly frequently when I was growing up. Somewhere along the line, as my family became more veg-centric, the chicken dropped out and the dish turned into a kind of spinach gratin. My mom used to make it with frozen spinach, but I thought I'd see if it would work with chard.

Yes, it would.

In fact, with all apologies to my mom, I think it's better than the original. This version is creamy and comforting but still has a bright-green taste; it's satisfyingly retro without tipping over the top into kitsch.

In light of the discussion above, it also pleases me to realize that I've just taken what started out as a horribly inauthentic American attempt at Italian (?) food, further mongrelized it, and presented it to you for St. Patrick's Day. A duke's mix!

Anyway, whatever you call it, it's very tasty. We ate it with veggie sausages (slice up a small onion and a couple of mushrooms, saute them in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until caramelized, then deglaze the pan with a bit of balsamic vinegar, and cook two sausages, sliced lengthwise, in the pan), and pasta tossed with oil, garlic, and chili flakes. As close as we get to meat and potatoes around here.

Chard Gratin

3/4 C Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (actually, I think you could decrease this to 1/2 C)
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium yellow onion
2 T butter (or oil)
2 T flour
1 C milk (or broth)
2 good-sized bunches chard, about 12 oz. total

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and cheese.

Wash the chard, remove the thick center ribs, and chop roughly. Chop the onion.

In a large skillet melt the butter, then saute the onion until tender. Blend in flour and stir in milk all at once. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Stir in the chopped chard and cook, stirring, until wilted.

Spoon into a greased casserole dish and bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 40-45 minutes.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Friday, March 5, 2010

dear sweet lacinato rabe, where have you been my whole life?

When I made this dish two weeks ago I figured I wouldn't post it, because it's nothing very original, nor even anything you haven't seen before on this blog.

Then I spent the whole week thinking about the meal I'd had, and decided: who cares about groundbreaking, the entire world MUST be told about this!

So I made it again. Not without trepidation (I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as I remembered--you know, the same feeling that makes you hesitate to re-read your favorite novel or re-watch your favorite movie). But this stuff--this "lacinato rabe," which I'd bought on a whim at the farmers market two weeks ago--delivered.

Weird name, right? What is lacinato rabe? Well, it has stems and little flowers like broccoli rabe (or broccoli raab or rapini or whatever you want to call it)

And leaves like lacinato kale (or tuscan kale or dinosaur kale or, again, whatever you call it)

I found it at Nash's Organic Produce, which has a booth at the University District market on Saturdays, and Ballard on Sundays. Go forth, Seattleites, and enjoy!

In the past I've had bad luck with rapini--I'd cook it and cook it but the stems always seemed to stay stringy and inedible. This particular variety seems to have gloriously juicy, tender stems. But I think the secret to broccoli rabe in general is this: don't wait too long to harvest it, and don't wait too long to cook it.

What you do is this: blanch the lacinato rabe, then saute it with olive oil, garlic, and chile flakes. Dump the whole mess over garlic-rubbed toast and a couple of poached eggs (I know, I know--I never promised you originality) and grate a bunch of Parmesan cheese over the top. After dinner, think about how you could eat nothing else for the rest of your life.

The Dinner You'll Keep Thinking About

It can be tough to time everything just right with this recipe. To keep everything from happening all at once, you could blanch the greens and toast the bread a bit ahead of time.

1 bunch lacinato rabe (or other variety broccoli rabe/rapini)
olive oil
crushed red pepper
4 thick slices crusty bread
4 eggs
2 Tbsp white vinegar
Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Wash the greens. Peel about 4 good-sized cloves of garlic.

Fill a large skillet with water, and add 2 Tbsp white vinegar and some salt.  Crack each of the eggs into its own small bowl.

When the big pot of water boils, throw the greens in and blanch them for a couple minutes, until the leaves and stems are bright green. Drain.

Turn on the skillet to boil the water for the eggs. Toast the bread and rub it with one of the garlic cloves. When the greens are cool enough to handle, chop them roughly.

In another skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Press the remaining garlic cloves into the pan. Add some salt and crushed red pepper. Stir around for a minute or two. Throw in the blanched greens and saute for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs. To assemble the dish, put a couple pieces of toast on a plate, put a poached egg on top of each one, throw the sauteed greens on top, and grate some Parmesan cheese over the whole works.

Serves 2

Monday, March 1, 2010

linguine with brussels sprouts barigoule: a conversion story

The first, and most important, thing you need to know about this dish is that after he finished his bowl my husband, the Brussels-sprouts hater, turned to me and said, "Those were the best Brussels sprouts I've ever had." And he didn't mean "Well, they were good...for Brussels sprouts," either. He meant he really enjoyed them.

The second thing you need to know about the dish is that the recipe, from the March 2009 issue of Gourmet (yup, it's that time again--this is my Gourmet, Unbound submission for this month), will make you say, "What the--?" Probably several times. After struggling through cooking it, I wished I'd read up more on the Barigoule preparation beforehand, so that I would have understood better what I was aiming for.

Except that there's not much available online about what Barigoule means. As best I can sleuth out, it's a Provencal preparation, usually applied to artichokes, and its defining characteristic is the presence of a kind of orange mushroom--the mushroom is called "barigoule" in the Provencal dialect, and hence the name of the dish.

Except, of course, there aren't any mushrooms in the Brussels sprouts recipe. So that background is no help at all.

Here, then, is what I wish I'd known before I started cooking: When you glance at the ingredients and technique, you might think, "Oh, okay, pasta tossed with braised vegetables. Sounds familiar." But as you actually read through the recipe it's likely to sound less and less familiar. And when you get to the part where you are supposed to add four cups of water to the cabbage you might even say, "Oh ho, Gourmet magazine, do you think I don't remember how you told me to add way too much water to those braised turnips recently? I'm not going to be fooled by you again!" You might even decide that since cabbage contains a lot of water you can just braise it in its own juices and so you're not going to add any water at all.

And then you might scorch the cabbage.

But do not fear! Even if you do scorch the cabbage the final dish will still be delicious. Don't ask me how I know.

The thing is, you aren't making braised vegetables tossed with pasta. What you are really making is a kind of a soup. Sauteed leeks, garlic, and Savoy cabbage--like a variation on a mirepoix--form the base of a white wine and lemon broth. The Brussels sprouts are added just at the end of cooking, so that they stay bright-green and a little bit crisp. Meanwhile you'll cook pasta until it is not quite done, then combine it and some of its cooking water with the vegetables--there you'll simmer the pasta the rest of the way to al dente. The technique lets the broth flavor the pasta, and the pasta thicken the broth slightly. It's quite brilliant, once you grasp what the recipe is driving at.

The dish is finished with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese, and please don't skip this part. That little bit of richness just makes the dish. (And about now you're probably realizing that this recipe has much in common, flavor-wise, with Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup--and we all know how fantastic that stuff is, right?)

My husband did have one quibble with the recipe--he wanted a greater proportion of vegetables to pasta. That's right: he wanted more Brussels sprouts. I can't quite believe it myself. But I think he's right. Especially because if you have leftovers the pasta will sit and soak up all the broth while you're eating, and then you're left with no broth for the next day. The Brussels sprouts and broth, sans pasta, would also be good ladled over a thick piece of crusty bread that has been rubbed with garlic, piled high with grated Parmesan, and run under the broiler. You could even add a poached egg on top. What? How did you know I was going to say that?

Anyway, one way or another, I recommend giving it a try.

Linguine with Brussels Sprouts Barigoule
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

2 leeks
A small head of Savoy cabbage (about 1/2-3/4 lb.)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic
2/3 Cup dry white wine
4 Cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, divide
1/2 lb Brussels sprouts
3/4 lb dried linguine (I used spaghetti, which was fine, but it really would be better with a wider noodle. And, as mentioned, I'd cut this down to maybe 1/2 lb next time.)
1/4 C chopped parsley
Plenty of Parmesan cheese

Wash the leeks and thinly slice the white and pale green parts. Quarter the cabbage, core it, and slice it thinly.

Heat the olive oil and 2 Tbsp of the butter in a heavy, 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, cabbage, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, peel the garlic. Then press the garlic into the pan and cook, stirring, for another minute or so. Add the wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp thyme, and the remaining 1 Tbsp butter. Cover and simmer briskly until the cabbage is very tender and the liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

When the cabbage begins to simmer, put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

While the cabbage cooks, wash the Brussels sprouts, trim the stems, and pull off any discolored leaves. Quarter the Brussels sprouts lengthwise.

When the cabbage is just about done, add the pasta to the boiling water. Then add the Brussels sprouts to the broth with the cabbage and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until the sprouts are bright-green and slightly tender.

When the pasta is not quite al dente, remove and reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. Transfer the vegetables to the pasta pot, and then return the pasta and cooking water to it, along with the remaining 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the pasta is done.

Off the heat, stir in the parsley and remaining 1/2 tsp thyme. Serve in shallow bowls with some of the broth. Grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese over each serving. 

4 to 6 servings.