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.

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