Cooking with Seasonal Produce: Swiss Chard
Have you ever seen swiss chard? It’s absolutely beautiful. The colors of the stems are so bright, it’s hard to believe it’s real. If you’re looking for a seasonally fresh food that will add color to your plate, swiss chard is a great option. You can braise chard or sauté it for a simple and easy side dish. Note: it will take longer than spinach to wilt because it’s a tougher leaf. Like kale, swiss chard is also a yummy addition to a soup on a cold winter evening.
This week I had a bunch of swiss chard from The Local Farmstand so David and I ate it for dinner twice, two different ways. Yum. The first meal I made to showcase this gorgeous veggie, used a recipe from Heidi Swanson’s cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, called “Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans”. While I’m not a huge fan of the word ‘crusty,’ it does describe the nice texture the white beans get after cooking in the skillet. I love a meal that’s made in one dish, and of course I can’t resist an opportunity to put to use our huge, new skillet. The white beans and swiss chard are a great duo of ingredients and the onion and garlic add more depth to this culinary creation.
While this meal is very simple to make, you do have to plan ahead a time to soak and cook the white beans. I really enjoy the bean prep process as opposed to using beans that come in a can full of gooey liquid. In order to make bean soaking a more time efficient task, I make more white beans than the specific recipe calls for, then I use the remainder of the beans for a meal later in the week, such as white bean chicken chili. Your cooked beans will keep well in the fridge for up to a week.
Preparing Dried Beans (Adapted from Heidi Swanson)
Pick through beans: Remove any small pebbles or clumps of dirt. Yes, I know that’s a little weird, but it’s good to do.
Soaking the beans:
About: While this step is optional, I don’t think I would cook dried beans if I didn’t have the chance to soak them. Soaking the beans overnight, or the first part of the day on the day you plan to cook them, makes them cook quicker and get much fuller and bigger. I also learned from Heidi Swanson that soaking beans gets rid of some of the indigestible sugars and beans that can cause us gas. Always a plus!
What to do: Place one pound of beans in a large, heavy pot and add enough water to cover by a few inches. Leave overnight or at least 5 hours.
Cooking the beans: After soaking, drain the beans and discard the soaking water, then add fresh water in an amount roughly double or triple the volume of the beans. Chop half an onion and toss it in. (Or you can use a combination with carrots and celery too. I just use whatever I happen to have in the house.)
Bring pot to a simmer and cook beans until tender. This will depend on the type of bean you have and how old the beans are. I just taste as I go, but my batch of white northern beans this week took a couple of hours. It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a few hours.
Season with salt in the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time, when the beans are almost ready. At this point they will start absorbing the salt, but the skin of the bean won’t resist absorption, making for a pot of tough beans.
Whew! I told you it was a little bit of a process but it’s really not that bad. A great thing to do while folding laundry on a Sunday afternoon. Now on to the actual recipe…
Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans (from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking)
- ½ pound medium or large dried white beans, cooked (I used great white northern beans)
- 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil (I used a combination of the two)
- Fine grain sea salt & pepper
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6 or 7 leaves rainbow swiss chard, leaves cut into wide strips and some stems cut into pieces (I cut around the stems first and then cut up the stems into smaller pieces than the leaves. The stems add such great color but they’re a little tougher than the leaves.)
- Grated parmesan cheese
Once beans are cooked, drain them and heat butter/olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the beans to the hot pan in a single layer. (Visualize one huge bean pancakes.) You can also do this in multiple batches if your skillet isn’t big enough. Stir to coat the beans with the butter, then let them cook in their single layer. They will start to brown beautifully on the bottom. After about 3 to 4 minutes, flip the beans. I use a spatula to try to keep them all evenly cooked on each side. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. At this point the beans will be brown on both sides, but not overcooked on the inside.
Drizzle beans with a little more olive oil. Salt to taste. Add onion and garlic and cook for one or two minutes, letting the onion soften.
Stir in the chard and cook until it starts to wilt. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and season liberally with salt and pepper and add a bit of olive oil.
I love a recipe with such simple ingredients. Onions, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese, as complements to the flavor of the white beans and swiss chard. What more do you need? Keeping food minimal, yet fresh and flavorful makes for a healthy, nutritious and delicious meal. I served this as our main course with a side of baby carrots roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. Continuing with the theme of simple, fresh, easy.