Thursday, March 17, 2005

I’ll Leaf it to You to Decide!

Leafy greens. Why do they have to languish under that nondescript nomenclature, I wonder. Most other vegetable products thrive on names of their own, after all. We don’t say “rounded reds” to refer to apples, plums and pomegranates. Or “bulbous whites” to categorize turnips, onions and garlic. I’ll ‘leaf’ it to you to decide!

Maybe the terminology stems (no pun intended there – really!) from the wonderful properties that the leafy greens share. Their vibrant green color is, in fact, a clue to their healthful properties. They are full of vitamins and nutrients (an alphabetical wonder of A, C and E, to K, iron, fiber and beyond), have calorie counts so low that they are in danger of disappearing altogether, are easy to grow in most non-arid parts of the world, and have low carbohydrate levels that would send even the most discouraged dieter among us into daydreams of size-smaller jeans!

Swiss chard has been one of my favorites for years. It comes in both white- and red-stemmed varieties – the stalks are sturdy and crisp, similar to celery in shape. I always grin as I remember rushing out to the garden, slicing off some robust stalks with wavy leaves big enough for a bunny to hide behind and imagining that startled bunny shouting out, “Hey, what’s up doc?” with consternation.

In addition to all of its 'leafy green' health benefits, Swiss chard is versatile and may be used raw or cooked. I prefer to use the younger, smaller leaves as a raw ingredient in salads and the larger, mature leaves (and stalks) as a stir-fried side dish, in soups, or as an additional, robust element in a variety of baked casseroles and cooked dishes. A few of my ‘good old comfort-food’ casseroles, from years gone by, seem a bit uninteresting these days; it’s nice to update them with additional ingredients.

The following recipe comes from the delightful biographical book On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town (Broadway Books, New York) by Susan Herrmann Loomis. In it, she describes her cooking studies in France and her subsequent relocation there, from the U.S., with her husband and young son. The account of the growing family’s adaptation to life in Normandy, an hour from Paris, reads as a page-turner, punctuated by great reminiscences of friends and foods discovered. There are many mouth-watering, sensible recipes in the book – and a convenient recipe index at the end.

*Copyright Note: Susan Herrmann Loomis specifically authorized this recipe reprint, by The Ingredient Sleuth, in this posting.

Swiss Chard Frittata

1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound (500 g) ruby or regular green Swiss chard, stems removed, cut in ½-inch (1.3cm) strips
6 large eggs
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup or 1 ounce (30 g) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Generous pinch of hot paprika

1. Place the garlic and 1 tablespoon of the oil (15ml) in a 9-1/2-inch (24-cm) ovenproof skillet over medium heat and cook until the garlic begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the chard, stir, cover, and cook until it is wilted and has turned a very dark green, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs with the salt, the cheese, and the paprika just until they are broken up. Preheat the broiler.

3. Add the remaining oil to the chard and stir, making sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour the eggs over the chard and let them cook until they are set on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. You will detect a somewhat toasty aroma, and the eggs will be set, except for about ¼ inch (.7cm) on the top.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and place it about 5 inches (12.5cm) from the broiler. Cook until the top is just set and there is no uncooked egg, 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to overcook.

5. Remove from the broiler and place the serving platter on top of the pan. Reverse the pan and the platter so the frittata falls onto the platter. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Yield: 6 appetizer servings; 2 to 4 main-dish servings

Ms. Loomis says that no one, of any age, has ever turned down this frittata when she prepares it. I can certainly understand that! The robust, yet sweet, chard and garlic flavors, blended with the familiar comforts of tender eggs, then set to sparkling with the tangy paprika, is a winning combination for children of all ages. Because it is best served at room temperature, this frittata is particularly convenient for picnics or guests.

For more about Ms. Loomis, her other books and her cooking courses in Normandy, check out She keeps her website up-to-date and filled with interesting things to read. Of course, we would presume nothing less of someone who grows chard in her garden! I wonder if she has a rascal rabbit hiding behind the chard leaves in her vegetable patch?


Anonymous said...

I have Susan Loomis' ITALIAN FARMHOUSE COOKBOOK and it's one of my mainstay cookbooks. Recipes & stories about the people in Italy who inspired the recipes. I didn't know that she offers cooking courses. Interesting!

Anonymous said...

Susan Hermann Loomis also has a book called Farmhouse Cookbook that is good.

Carolyn said...

You're right -- On Rue Tatin is one of my favorite books. Thx for the recipe comments too. I never knew how to use chard and now I do!

Anonymous said...

Made the fritatta recipe last nite and it was delicious. Very substantial flavors that made the dish a meal, with a side of soup.