Two weeks ago, I took a trip to Des Moines to visit a new friend, an Iowa gardener whose garden makes mine look, well, silly. From flowers to vegetables to trees to herbs, abundance surrounds her home, evidence of hours of hard work and an incredible understanding of plants and how they work together.
When we walked out her back door, my eyes fell on her Fordhook Giant Chard, towering over the garden. “Wow,” I said. “You seem to be having more success with your chard than I am.”
Just before I left, she volunteered to send me home with some of the Fordhook chard, as well as some rainbow chard that, again, looked much better than mine. I am not one to turn down greens, particularly when my have been behaving so poorly. And the unexpected gift changed my whole dinner plan for the evening.
I’ve alluded to this before on the blog, but one of the variables I hadn’t accounted for when I first moved to Iowa City was that Steve was in a fairly serious bike accident right before I arrived. Steve’s Mom, Mary Beth, swooped into town and helped us hold things together, taking Steve to doctors’ appointments and making sure he got all the requisite medicine during the day, and preparing dinner every night so I’d have one less thing to worry about.
One night, quite possibly a night when Mary Beth met me at the door with a glass of wine (God bless anyone who recognizes that, occasionally, the best ministry for crisis is grape-based…), she fixed us a dish she credited to her friend Claire, a fellow potter and food-wine enthusiast who lived not far from my old apartment across the river from D.C. The recipe is deceptively simple and results in a comforting, saucy dish that provides nutrition, warmth and that good carby buzz. Really. It has nothing to do with the wine.
The dish, as Mary Beth passed it on and as Claire created it, used tortellini instead of gnocchi, but you can make it either way. You can also substitute onions for the shallots, or use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Make it your own, any way you would like. Just remember that the recipe came by way of friendship, as, in this case, did the chard.
And that chard? I had to include a picture to give you some perspective. Note that Steve is holding it next to the sorry, bitten-off chard that our garden produced. My friend’s crop was serious chard, people. SERIOUS chard. Tall and beautiful and wavy. Chard to get excited about, even before you’ve even started cooking dinner.
Friendly Swiss chard and gnocchi
1-2 large bunches of Swiss chard (rainbow is prettiest, but any chard will do)
2 lbs. gnocchi (or 2 12-oz. packages of your choice of tortellini)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic (depending on your tolerance), chopped
2-3 shallots, chopped (Or, if you’d like, sub in a couple of onions)
1/2 to 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
- Boil some water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan, and chop the garlic and shallots.
- When the water boils, add the gnocchi and cook as directed. Drain, and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, cook the garlic and shallots until soft. While they’re cooking, chop up the chard. Don’t be absurd about this – a rough chop is really all that’s needed.
- Add the chopped chard stems to the garlic and shallots and begin to let it soften. Then begin adding the leaves, letting them wilt before adding the next handful. Use a lid on the pan, if that helps.
- About halfway through adding all the chard, pour in enough broth to moisten everything and make it saucy. You want about 1/8 inch of broth in the bottom of your pan.
- Continue sautéing the chard and letting the broth cook down until the broth coats the chard-shallot-garlic mixture.
- Toss in the gnocchi, mix everything up, and serve immediately, topped with freshly grated Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.