In the section of Foodie Confessions, there are a few vegetables that I'm ashamed to have never really tried my hand at cooking. Turnips, in all their many guises. (In French, they can be navarins, navets, panais...I've never really sorted them out in English or French.) And the Jerusalem artichoke. Another one that has escaped me for many years is the Swiss Chard. You can tell when a vegetable is considered "exotic" by the editors of the Fanny Farmer cookbook: it essentially has one recipe with a single variation. So when I was at the market last week, looking for something interesting to add to my basket I hit on one that appeared frequently in the stalls: Swiss Chard, or blettes.
I consulted my beloved Fannie Farmer and found the single recipe (with a variation). And I decided to follow the general indications but add a little flavor. (This is pretty common when I consult Fannie Farmer recipes...)
And, to my great surprise, I created a dish that was not just edible but actually extremely tasty. I thought about sharing it with the Critic but decided very quickly that he wouldn't like it. Like many dark green leafy vegetables, the Swiss Chard was set off perfectly by cream, egg and nutmeg. I don't know why nutmeg and cream taste so good together, or why nutmeg cream and dark green leafy vegetables are delicious together. All I can be is glad. In addition, the texture of the gratin is smooth and almost jellied, a very satisfying bite. On the health scale, it does relatively well: while you have cream and egg on the debit side, there is no other fat and the Swiss Chard is full of vegetables and iron. And a subtle taste that is perfectly set off by the nutmeg. (Did I mention that?)
Oh, and it's pretty cheap too. A perfect dish.
Gratin aux blettes (serves four as a side dish, two as a main)
2 heads of Swiss Chard
1/2 cup cream, milk or combination of the two
100 grams (about 2/3 cup) grated comté or gruyère
water for cooking, 1/4 cup reserved
salt, pepper and a good grinding of nutmeg
1 Tbs butter
Cut the leaves of the Swiss Chard along the thick rib. Cut the white thick rib in pieces about an inch or 2.5 cm long. Toss them in boiling water and cook them for about ten minutes. In the meantime, cut the dark green leafy bits in pieces roughly the same size or a bit larger. Toss the green bits in with the pieces of white rib and cover. Butter a small roasting pan with the butter. Mix the cooked chard with the cheese, cream and/or milk, reserved cooking water and nutmeg. Pour in the roasting pan and bake in a preheated oven (180c/350f) for 40 minutes or until the egg is set and the top is browned.