Swiss chard, with stems in a rainbow of colors, has never reached the celebrity status of kale. Yet, it is more versatile, easier to work with, and just as hardy. Long celebrated throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia, it thrives in cooler regions such as ours with a season that stretches long into fall.
Swiss chard is related to beets and spinach, and its flavor resembles a cross of both. It’s a vegetable of many names, sometimes called white beet, strawberry spinach, leaf beet, Roman kale and more. It’s not clear where the adjective “Swiss” comes from, because the plant is not native to Switzerland, although it was first described by a Swiss botanist.
While Swiss chard can be chopped finely like kale for a salad, it’s truly better when slow-cooked with garlic into a fragrant, silky tangle, one that’s ever so subtly sweet. Treated this way, it’s a terrific side dish for grilled steak or pork, or as a vegetarian main dish, stirred into a pot of cooked white beans and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese. But I love chard best piled onto a buttery tart crust topped with tangy fresh chèvre, as in today’s recipe.
At the market, look for chard with bright, ruffled leaves and firm stems. When home, remove the elastic bands and store the chard in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. If space is an issue, remove the leaves from the stalks and store separately.
Chard can be sandy, so clean it well by first soaking it for a few minutes in a large bowl of cold water, then give the leaves a good shake or pat dry with clean towels. Because the stems take a bit longer to cook than the leaves, if you are preparing them together, start cooking the stems first. Once they are tender, toss in the leaves. (Some recipes require removing the ribs in the leaves, but I never bother.)
Swiss chard’s mellow flavor is milder than that of kale, which can be bitter this time of year. It’s enhanced by garlic, chiles, ginger and a tart citrus, such as lemon. Popular in France, Swiss chard was once reserved for royalty. This tart is certainly fit for a queen.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.