The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spaghetti with Chard in Tomato Sauce

I first had chard when I was doing a summer study-abroad program in Spain. My host mother asked me if I liked "acelga." She repeated the word twice for me and I had nothing but a blank stare to give her in return. I went for my Spanish/English dictionary and looked up the word to see the translation as "swiss chard." That might as well have been in Spanish, too - I had no idea what it was. Thankfully my host mother was vegetarian like I am, so I knew the mystery chard was safe to eat. She prepared it as a fresh soup, if I recall correctly; simply pureed with a bit of garlic, olive oil, and salt. I enjoyed it. And I promptly forgot all about chard upon returning to the U.S.

Anyhow, back to the almost present. I'm a sucker for pretty colors, and the bright magenta, yellow, orange, white, and red stems of the chard caught my eye one day while walking through a farmer's market. This variety is apparently known as "rainbow chard." Attached to those stems were big, beautiful green leaves. I asked the guy running the stand how he recommended cooking the chard. His recommendation? Saute it and add it to spaghetti sauce. Two years later I'm still making chard this way. (Rainbow chard image taken by Flickr member Trillbilly, used pursuant to Creative Commons license.)

Chard season is not yet here, so expect to see another recipe or two using it in the future, and likely showcasing its rainbowy beauty better. This meal, however, is all about being simple, hearty, and comforting...oh yeah, and tasty.

There is a lot of flexibility with this meal. If you already have a favorite spaghetti sauce, then just add some chard to it and call it a day. You can saute it separately ahead of time and then add the cooked chard to the sauce, or add it raw. The advantage of cooking it separately is that you can give the chard more of its own flavor - you can make it garlicky, for example. The advantage of doing it all in one pot is fewer dishes to wash. I went with fewer dishes to wash, as this is supposed to be a simple meal. You can also use any kind of pasta you happen to have on hand; the heartiness and strong flavors of this preparation mean that the sauce can hold its own when served atop whole wheat pasta as well. One last note - I used fire roasted canned tomatoes; the fire-roasted tomatoes just add another layer of flavor to the whole thing. If you can find them, please try them, but just plain old tomatoes will work as well. I know this picture I have does the dish no justice, but here goes:

Spaghetti with Swiss Chard in Tomato Sauce
by Me

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 25 oz can Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen brand)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Add olive oil to a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened, but before the garlic begins to brown.
Stir in 1/4 tsp salt.
Add tomatoes and herbs/spices. Stir. Cover and let simmer.
Meanwhile, wash the chard carefully and trim the stems. Cut the chard horizontally into 1/2-inch wide ribbons.
Create a well in the middle of the skillet and add the chard a bit at a time, allowing the previous batch to wilt before adding more. Once all the chard has been added and has cooked down a bit, stir to incorporate the chard throughout the sauce.
Cover and turn heat down to medium-low. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes or so. You want the mixture to reach a nice thick consistency.
Remove bay leaves. Taste for salt; add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt if desired. Serve atop pasta of your choice.


Cam said...

Made this tonight, and it was delicious! The fire-roasted tomatoes made a big difference; I can't wait to try it with my own fire-roasted tomatoes after a trip to the farmer's market. I put a little white wine and chicken stock in it and added the pasta while it was still undercooked. I also thought it might be really good with some toasted pine nuts, but alas, I had none. Awesome recipe!

Post a Comment