We have recently joined a CSA–the exciting thing about this particular CSA is it’s a year round one (in Massachusetts!) So far we’ve only had one delivery (#2 arrives today) and the produce is, unsurprisingly, mainly from out of state but I expect that the “balance of power” will gradually shift.
This is the second vegetable CSA we have done. We tried one last year as well but it didn’t work so well–I think it was too much to deal with, between a new baby and studying for the bar exam. Now, oddly enough even though I am back at work full time, it seems a little easier to manage to cook.
The thing with CSAs is you find out what you get at pickup (though usually the farm gives you an idea of what’s coming) and then have to figure out what to do with it, which is in contrast to how I normally go about things–find a recipe and then go buy the ingredients for it. So it requires a little more flexibility, and also a willingness to try new vegetables you might not otherwise buy.
Among other wintry items, we had a bunch of swiss chard. Many of my favorite cookbooks rave about swiss chard, which is something I didn’t know really existed until a few years ago when I started going to the farmer’s market in London. (I’m sure it was in some supermarkets but not really knowing what it was I probably passed right over it thinking it was some sort of cabbage, which I also used to refuse to eat). But when Marcella Hazan tells you it is one of the most important Italian vegetables you have to take it seriously. I’ve tried it a few times, and have always thought it was “OK” but never appreciated the mild delicate flavor. Perhaps I didn’t get the seasonings quite right–something that is mild and delicate can easily be bland if you don’t prepare it well.
But we had a bunch of chard and it had to be used! I flipped through Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables and she had a chard gratin recipe. I remembered I had made it before and that my husband loved it. (I apparently had merely thought it was “OK” as I didn’t remember it until then). I didn’t quite have the right quantities or the right ingredients, but used it as a springboard. I then made the following recipe. Caveat: it’s easy, and doesn’t require a lot of work, but does require a lot of pots and pans. (Simple refers to the number of ingredients, in my mind).
Simple Swiss Chard Gratin for Two
inspired by Chez Panisse Vegetables
1 bunch of Swiss Chard (about 10 ounces)
1 cup of cream or milk (I used cream, as I had it on hand)
1 T flour
one clove of garlic (or to taste)
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375.
Blanch the chard for 2 minutes in boiling water, including the stems. (You may want to trim the stems first if they are dry). Slice into pieces about 3 inches wide. Heat oil over medium heat and add the chard and minced garlic. Cook for 10 minutes until the chard stems start to get soft. Meanwhile heat the cream over low heat. Sprinkle the flour over the chard and stir in. Add 1/3 of the cream and stir in until it clings to the chard mixture. Continue this way until all the cream is added and the chard mixture is in a thick sauce. Stir in seasonings.
Spoon chard into two ramekins and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned.
Notes: Nice artisan bread would be good to have on hand to get the last bit of cream sauce. This doesn’t make a lot–but it’s rich and can easily be increased in quantity. I used more cream than the recipe I adapted this from would have for an equivalent amount of vegetables, so perhaps the result would be different with milk. This would be an interesting technique to try with other leafy vegetables, and is also interesting in that no cheese is used–something I tend to associate with gratins.