Planting vegetables in the backyard garden sometimes seems similar to setting up a new recipe, you decide on your ingredients, then later on, change it up a bit, a little extra of this, a little extra of that, or perhaps, even a little less. Which then brings me to Rainbow Chard, and that in next year’s garden, the change-up will involve planting just a little bit less, meaning one row of four leafy greens rather than eight.
Initially the idea was that the neighbors might also enjoy plentiful picking of the crop, and, given use of a natural repellent, the deer would be eating less. Neither of those options has transpired. You might say at least the vegetables are being eaten up by the latter, but my bigger concern is that the abundance might inspire a larger crowd, then diversifying bigger meals among a broader range of crops. We have a lot of deer in these parts. Besides we are already sharing plenty of vegetables with a rabbit, but it’s just one, and doesn’t eat as much as the deer, who also annually nibble their gourmet meal off every hosta plant in the front yard too. Yes. One row of chard in this garden seems just the right amount.
Rainbow chard, sold alongside its sibling, plain Swiss chard, is a nutritious and versatile vegetable, tasty in soups, stews, or, its leafy greens simply sautéed as a side dish. As far as the ribs, I best enjoy the observation made by author, Aliza Green, in her cookbook “Starting With Ingredients” remarking on the ribs technically being a “nutty stalk,’ in essence, a vegetable of their own coming free with the purchase of the Swiss chard. This is so true about Swiss Chard ribs as they do stand alone in providing delicious side dishes, simply sautéed in some butter and seasoned with salt and pepper, to a more comfort filled classic in cooler months such as today’s preparation, Rainbow Chard Rib Gratin.
Preparing a savory gratin is a rather simple matter that may easily be put together from among any number of vegetables, adjusting your choices and ingredient combinations sort of like planting your garden, adding in a little extra of this or that, perhaps less. Fundamentally your prepared combination is blended together with a simple roux of butter and flour, first finished off by adding in warm milk or cream, whisking until thickened and stirring through some nice grated cheese. Topped with a thin layer of bread crumbs that have been lightly cooked with some melted butter, then voila, into the oven it goes, producing a creamy, crispy savory combination.
Since I tend to mostly use cookbooks just for the pleasure of the stories, and inspiration in the photography, it was not surprising to have remembered Aliza’s little tidbit surrounding the Swiss chard ribs, but what was surprising when I went to reference it, was noting a recipe Aliza included on Swiss Chard gratin. If you’ve been following our Cottage Cooking Club, you might notice I’ve been rather swooned by our “River Cottage veg everyday!” cookbook infusing milk before its further preparation into a roux. I’ve been revisiting the concept frequently. In the photo above, I used half of an onion, bay leaf, some peppercorns and a cut up stalk of celery, which incidentally has something of a similar flavor to the chard rib with the chard rib being somewhat milder. Anyway, getting back to the “Starting with Ingredients” cookbook, it was a rather interesting surprise to note that Aliza’s recipe for this gratin also used infused milk, making this rather a sort of fun discovery, and also making me curious on some of the earlier roots utilizing this flavorful process in both European and American cuisines.
Sautéed onions and garlic are often commonly nice enhancements in savory vegetable gratins, along with a bit of fresh herb, as thyme, each ingredients included in this Swiss Rainbow Chard Rib Gratin recipe. You can easily switch out vegetable combinations, but should this lovely dish strike your fancy, using Rainbow Swiss chard, that is, the free crisp pink and pale yellowed color ribs, accompanying large, fresh, leafy greens, well, you now know whose garden you can stop on by and pick from, that is, if the neighborhood deer don’t get there first.
- 8 tablespoons butter, approximately
- 3 cups Rainbow chard ribs, approximately, sliced from around 4-5 Rainbow chard leaves, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 onion, half used for infusing the milk, the other half sliced thinly into half moon shape
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3-5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stems, plus a couple extra for garnish
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups strained, infused milk (below)
- 2 cups shredded cheese, a mix of cheddar and Gruyere works nicely
- pinch or two ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon, more or less to taste, coarse kosher salt
- 3-4 grinds black pepper
- 2-3 tablespoons Panko or standard bread crumbs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 onion
- 6 or more peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 stalk celery cut into pieces
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease gratin dish or individual gratin dishes with butter. Mix bread crumbs in a small pan with butter and heat about a minute and a half, stirring until butter has melted into crumbs and barely begins coloring. Prepare infused milk, pouring milk into a saucepan then dropping in the onion, bay leaves, celery pieces, and peppercorns, simmer on very low heat until milk begins slightly bubbling around the edges.Turn off heat and let sit to further infuse flavor ten minutes or longer. Melt another 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan on low heat, tumble in the onions. Cook onions for two minutes before adding in the rainbow chard ribs, cook three minutes then scrape in the garlic and thyme leaves, stirring and cooking another few minutes, season with salt and pepper, stir, check seasoning and adjust to taste.Turn off heat. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, sprinkle over two tablespoons of flour and cook on medium low heat for two to three minutes, stirring constantly, slowly add the warm, strained, infused milk, stir constantly to incorporate the mixture increasing the heat to medium and cooking until thickened. Turn off heat and stir in shredded cheese. Sprinkle in nutmeg, a pinch of salt and a bit of pepper. Pour the cheese mixture into the vegetables blending together well, then transferring to the buttered gratin dish(s), top with buttered breadcrumbs. Cover with aluminum foil and place dishes onto a baking sheet, place into oven. Bake gratin for twenty minutes, remove aluminum foil and continue baking until topping is golden brown and mixture is bubbling. Gratin may be broiled for a minute to develop further golden color before serving. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.