Chard stems!? In a recipe?! Grimace. What?! Huh?!
Chard stems were something that always went straight from the cutting board to the garbage can until I came across this preparation method in Alice Water’s ‘Chez Panisse Vegetables’. Nearly all chard recipes I’ve seen call for chard with the ‘tough center rib removed and discarded’. Not having a compost bin, I’ve always felt a little wasteful just chucking these stems. But, really, they simply don’t work with most chard preparations — especially those that call for a quick flash in the pan (my favorites) — the texture of the stem is too heavy for the delicate greens.
Since I had never seen any recipes calling for the use of the stems, I had just assumed they were fairly inedible. So, when I saw this preparation method, I knew I had to try it. I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I pulled the steaming, golden brown dish out of the oven, I experienced two distinct feelings — 1) a sense of economical accomplishment for using something that until then I had always thrown out, and 2) a sense of enchantment because the dish smelled SERIOUSLY delicious. Cheers to Alice Waters for publishing cookbooks with simple yet mouthwatering recipes. This recipe has only seven ingredients, but the whole is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.
Also, this recipe is notable for the reason that it is the first recipe on Modern Beet that calls for any sort of meat. I mention this because finding a good source of high-quality, ethically produced meat is incredibly important, and sometimes difficult to do. If you follow websites like Ethicurean.com (or any major news site as of late), you’ve probably heard of the inhumane treatment of cows at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing plant in Chino, CA, and the ensuing recall of 143 MILLION pounds of beef (which is almost HALF of the meat recalled since 1994!)(another side note — in my opinion, the recall is a largely symbolic measure and is actually quite wasteful). Anyhow, it’s evident that the conventional meat production system is inherently broken and encourages unsustainable practices, animal cruelty, and abuse of the land. For these reasons, I abstain from conventionally raised meat. However, it IS possible to find ethically produced meat, and I think that this is a case where voting with your food dollars can make a difference. By supporting ranchers and producers with sustainable and ethical practices, we ensure that there will be a supply of ethically raised meat, and at the same time we send a message to large grocery corporations that this is how we want our meat to be produced. In fact, Safeway has recently taken steps to ensure better animal welfare in its food purchasing decisions — small steps, but it’s a start.
Anyhow, this bacon in particular was made by Dittmer’s Wursthaus in Mountain View, CA, my local butcher. If you’re looking for ethical meat, try your local farmer’s market or natural foods store, butcher, Whole Foods, websites like LocalHarvest.org, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even make your own!
Chard Stem Gratin
– Center ribs cut from 1 bunch swiss chard, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch chunks
– 3 strips all-natural / organic / homemade bacon cut into 1/2 inch strips *
– 3 large garlic cloves, minced
– 1 small handful parsley, chopped
– 1 tomato, seeded and chopped (note: during the winter and spring months when tomatoes are not in season, I find that using high quality canned tomatoes is a tastier and more economical option that using conventionally raised supermarket tomatoes)
– 1.5 T heavy cream or leftover Bechamel sauce (substitute milk with a little melted butter if you don’t have cream on hand)
– a generous grating of gruyere or parmesan cheese (any hard salty cheese would work here)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, add chard, and blanch for 6-7 minutes. Drain, and place in a small baking dish.
Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to baking dish. Remove all but about 1/2 – 1T of the rendered fat. Add garlic and saute for about a minute. Add to baking dish. Mix parsley and tomato into baking dish, drizzle with cream, and top with grated cheese. Bake for approximately 13-15 minutes, until cream is bubbly and cheese is starting to brown. Enjoy!
* Please see final paragraph of post for a discussion of ethical meat sourcing