Friday, May 29, 2009

Chard Recipes Part One: Mac and Cheese

With chard and other leafy vegetables comes that inevitable question: if I don't put it in a salad or saute it, what can I do with it? Thankfully, chard (swiss, rainbow and other cultivars of this leafy green) is actually a pretty versatile vegetable.

We're going to give you a few different recipes that show you what you can cook with chard. Just remember that you don't necessarily have to eat it by itself - it's great when combined with fish, lamb and a range of other vegetables.

Chard Recipe 1: Mac and Cheese With Chard

First off, chard goes really well with cheeses and white sauces. One basic recipe that the kids will probably like is mac and cheese. Of course if you're actually interested in how your food tastes, you won't want to just mix a box of Kraft mac and cheese with some chopped chard and call it a day. Thankfully, mac and cheese is a pretty straightforward recipe, even when made from scratch.


6 tbsp butter or 3 tbsp butter and then 3 tbsp canola oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups 2% milk
4 cups of grated cheese (gouda or smoked gouda are good, so are some Italian cheeses, like pecorino romano, etc., I'll talk more about cheese in a bit)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. swiss chard, rinsed, ribs removed
12 oz. elbow macaroni (penne and rotelli work well, too)
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp smoked spanish paprika (optional)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Before we get started, let's talk about cheese. For this recipe, you can use a wide range of cheeses and it's probably a good idea to experiment to find out what you and your family likes to eat. Gouda, swiss, parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, Monterey jack, muenster, sharp cheddar, etc. are all good cheeses to use. It's actually not a bad idea to mix two cheeses, for example one sharper cheese and one milder one, say gouda and sharp cheddar, or pecorino romano and mozzarella, to get a more interesting flavor for your mac and cheese.

Directions: First, heat 3 tbsp of butter or oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion, then the flour and garlic, and saute those ingredients until the garlic and onions become translucent. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil (should take a few minutes). Add half (2 cups) of your grated cheese and stir it until the cheese is melted into the mixture.

Next, add the spices you like. If you're going to add nutmeg, you probably don't want to add the smoked paprika. If you to give your mac and cheese a smoky flavor, though (for example if you used smoked gouda as the cheese), I would add the smoked paprika and forgo the nutmeg. Cayenne adds heat and will work with nutmeg without affecting the flavor too much, but use the spice only if your family likes a spicier mac and cheese. Good spice combos are nutmeg and black pepper or smoked paprika and cayenne.

Next, grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then, while you're cooking the cheese sauce, start a pot of boiling water. Add the chard to the boiling water and cook it for about a minute (until it's tender but not overly wilted). Remove the chard and let it cool. Bring the water back to a boil so you can re-use it to cook the pasta. Drain the pasta once it's cooked and add it immediately to the cheese sauce. Stir it all together.

Chop the chard up into small strips. Pour about a third of the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle half of the chard onto the first third. Also add 1 cup of the remaining cheese. Next, add the second third of the pasta/cheese mixture and add the rest of the chard to it. Lastly, add the final third of the pasta/cheese mixture and sprinkle the remaining cheese as well as the breadcrumbs on top. Bake the mixture for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and then let cool for 10-15 minutes.

Note that this recipe is also pretty good with sausage of some kind added to the mixture. If you do decide to add sausage, cook it first (boil it if you want to make it somewhat healthier), dice it into small pieces and then add it right before you bake this dish when you're pouring the pasta/cheese mixture into the pan. Chicken sausage is a good substitute if you want to make this recipe slightly healthier. Divvy the chopped sausage into thirds and add it in layers along with the chard so you don't end up with a sausage layer by itself.

This dish probably serves 4-5 normal people, maybe 3 really hungry people. This recipe was adapted from a May 2009 recipe from Bon Appetit magazine (the cheese types, sausage and spicing suggestions are original additions).

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