Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Chard comes in several guises. The mighty ivory-stemmed, deep-green leaved Swiss Chard needs to have its leaves and stems cooked separately to cope with the very different textures of each. The altogether finer golden-stemmed or ruby-red forms and multi-coloured Rainbow Chards whose stalks can grow cream, yellow, orange, pink or crimson can, unless very large, be cooked together. But if you prefer a soft texture rather than a little contrasting crunch, cook the stalks for a couple of minutes before adding the leaves. Chard is a member of the Beet family, but of a kind that has been selected for its leaves rather than its root. The colourfulness of chard’s stalks and leaf ribs is due to the same betain pigments being present in them as occur in equally colourful beetroots. Chard is also a distant relative of spinach so its leaves can be treated similarly, though it has a more earthy flavour.
Picked very small, Chard is a tasty and colourful addition to the salad bowl. Thick stems can be blanched in boiling water for a minute or two, drained and finished in a gratin dish in a medium oven smothered by a cheese sauce and scattered with breadcrumbs. They are also good chopped and added to a vegetable or bean soup. The leaves, or the whole of tender stemmed chards, can be boiled like spinach (if in doubt, cook the stems for 2 minutes then add the leaves for a further 2 minutes) before draining well. At this point you could use the cooked chard as a side dish by adding it to a little olive oil that has been warmed in a pan then serve with a squeeze of lemon. Chopped after boiling it makes a good filling for a creamy quiche or tart, an Italian Frittata or Spanish Tortilla. It also makes a good base for ‘Eggs Florentine’ in place of spinach.
We’ve been buying great quality Organic British-grown chard for several months now but as we move towards the end of November the crop growth slows and supplies will shift to chards grown in kinder European climates.