We’re coming up on the end of chard season here in Colorado, at least in my sun-deprived garden. I picked it all this week because a) it’s not going to grow anymore (that lack of direct sun thing), and b) it’s getting below 20°F at night, which is cold enough to damage the leaves.
What does one do with all that chard? I picked about 1 pound of leaves and 2 pounds of stems. I usually separate the leaves from the big stems because the stems take much longer to cook. I will blanch and freeze a bunch (my husband and I can only eat so much chard). The rest went into this gratin.
A gratin is a baked dish, usually enriched with milk or cream, though you don’t have to make them creamy and cheesy. I posted a non-milk based potato gratin; it contained only a small amount of cheese. The cooking liquid was broth. It was still quite tasty. This gratin is richer – but chard is not filling at all, so you want a richer sauce.
When shopping for chard, assuming you don’t have a garden to provide you with a big bunch, buy about 2 ½ pounds. Chard yields 50% stem, and 50% leaves, approximately. Look for bunches with bigger stems. My garden chard (variety Burpee’s Fordhook Giant) grows particularly large fleshly stems.
You can use bacon fat or butter for the sauce. If you use the bacon for garnish, dice it raw and cook it in a saucepan. Remove the bacon bits and add more bacon fat or butter to measure about 2 Tablespoons to make the sauce.
Swiss Chard Stem Gratin
1 ¼ pound Swiss Chard stems, cut into 4″ long x ½” wide sticks
non-stick cooking spray or butter
2 Tablespoons bacon fat (or use butter)
1 ½ Tablespoons flour
1 ½ cup milk (2% or whole)
1 pinch nutmeg
large pinch of black pepper
salt (not much if using bacon fat)
¾ cup grated Swiss cheese, like Jarlsberg or Gruyere
2-3 sliced cooked bacon, diced (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a large gratin pan with cooking spray or butter. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook chard in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and chill with cold tap water. Set aside to drain while you make the Bechamel sauce.
Heat bacon fat in a medium saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Slowly add milk and whisk to prevent lumps. Keep whisking until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add nutmeg and black pepper. Taste for salt (bacon fat will add a bit of salt); add more if needed. Remove from heat and whisk in ½ cup Swiss cheese until it has melted into the sauce.
To assemble gratin, spread chard stems in pan in an even layer. Sprinkle on diced bacon, if using. Pour sauce evenly over chard. Sprinkle on remaining ¼ cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly around the edges.
Adapted from Vegetables by James Peterson, William Morrow and Company, 1998.