Posts tagged meals

More Chard

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I may have to change the name of this blog from Artichoke Heart to Swiss Chard of My Heart (or something along those lines.) Lately I can’t get enough of this leafy green. That Swiss chard, cannellini bean, and barley soup should have kept me satisfied for at least a few weeks, but last weekend Jim and I returned for more, making a meatless lasagna layered with tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and yes, more chard.

The more I cook with Swiss chard, the more I realize how versatile it is. I first discovered it last summer when I made chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice, and since then I’ve tried to cook with it whenever possible. With its mild flavor—it’s not one of those bitter greens like escarole or broccoli rabe—and its sturdy, almost elastic texture, it holds its own in a variety of recipes. And as stated here and here by the New York Times, chard is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins C and A.

I should confess that I had never actually made lasagna before this past weekend. But with the help of this recipe, I got the hang of things quickly. I infused the tomato sauce with onions instead of garlic—I just happen to prefer my tomato sauces this way—and Jim and I used no-boil lasagna noodles. The result was wonderful: a light, healthy pasta dish where the sweet tomato sauce and ricotta cheese were perfectly complemented by the gentle chard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss the meat at all. I’m just trying to figure out what to make with the next batch of Swiss chard.

Recipe for Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Tomato Sauce, and Ricotta (Adapted from the New York Times’s Recipes for Health section. Tips on preparing no-boil lasagna noodles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.)

  • 1 large batch of Swiss chard, washed thoroughly
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 5-6 leaves of basil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While you wait for the water to boil, make your tomato sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the onions from the oil and discard. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Stir often, until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. When finished, remove the basil leaves and discard. Set the pot to the side and turn to the Swiss chard.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut the Swiss chard leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems or save them for another use. When the water in the large pot is boiling, add the Swiss chard. Boil for 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil). You want the leaves to be tender but still bright green; do not overcook. Remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water; this stops them from cooking further. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the leaves coarsely. Put the tomato sauce back over low heat, stir in the Swiss chard, and set the pot aside again.

Prepare the lasagna noodles. Fill an oblong baking dish with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak for 10 minutes, shaking the dish often to keep the noodles from sticking together. Remove the noodles to clean dishcloths and dab excess water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top them with the rest of the ricotta, sauce, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. If you like, finish the lasagna under the broiler for 3 minutes, uncovered, until top is browned. Let the lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m surprised, actually, that it has affected me this much. But it re-enters my consciousness often, such as when I’m planning my next meal or walking down the block to the farmers’ market.

The book chronicles the Kingsolver family’s efforts to eat locally and seasonally for a year, while simultaneously weaving factual information about food production into the narrative. They grew and produced as much food as possible on their Appalachian farm—in addition to fruits and vegetables they raised a flock of heritage turkeys and egg-laying hens—and bought other necessities from local farmers’ markets and purveyors to fill in the gaps.

Even writing the book was a family affair. While Barbara Kingsolver was the primary author, informational sidebars were written by her husband Steven L. Hopp. Recipe plans and additional perspective into the project were provided by eldest daughter Camille, a student at Duke University. Youngest daughter Lily wasn’t old enough to sign an author’s contract, but she is a lively presence throughout the book, even starting her own egg business.

The informational anecdotes about subjects such as commercial meat processing, high fructose corn syrup, and the importance of CSAs didn’t interest me much. To be honest, I found them a little repetitive, similar to what I’d already read in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should note, though, that for those unfamiliar with these issues, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle would be a suitable introduction.

What resonated with me more were the personal stories about the Kingsolvers’ efforts to live off their farm. The work is hard, but the author’s description of her family’s dedication is inspiring. They learned how to do everything, from making their own mozzarella and caring for their hens to butchering their own turkeys and freezing vegetables for the winter.

Now when I sort through my CSA produce, I find myself wondering how the Kingsolvers would prepare beet greens or what they would think of purple basil. I remember Camille’s seasonal meal plans and recipes, where she let nothing go to waste. While preparing my homemade tomato sauce last week I thought back to the chapter on tomato season, and envisioned the Kingsolver kitchen filled with jars of canned tomatoes.

I don’t have a farm or garden to call my own, but the Kingsolvers’ story has encouraged me to think in new ways. Obviously I’ve been interested in cooking, food, and food issues for some time, but I thank the Kingsolvers for sharing their experience and inviting me into their world. It’s a wonderful one to be in, and thanks to their website, I can return often.

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Book Review: In Defense of Food

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I was halfway through Michael Pollan’s newest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I wondered if the author agreed with my sentiment that sharing a meal with friends and family is more pleasurable than eating alone. One of Pollan’s primary concerns in his book is that Americans have become so confused about nutrition that we no longer enjoy the act of eating.

In fact Pollan does point out that it is better to eat a communal meal than to eat alone, for a few reasons: By sharing a meal with a group, we tend to eat less, and we also elevate the act of dining to more than a mechanical process. Eating becomes about family, connections, and communication, something that Europeans such as the Italians and the French seem to understand a bit better than we do. 

But I am getting ahead of the point. Pollan’s book doesn’t only strive to tell us how to eat and live better; it also seeks to examine how we have arrived at such a confusing juncture regarding how and what we eat. Pollan explains how the problems of the Western diet and nutritionism have often simply gotten it wrong, turning us into a country where diseases such as obesity and diabetes are on a staggering rise. Just look at the once-revered low-fat diet, whose cancer-preventing values have been largely disproved.

I’m not going to give a summary of the book in this post, but I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in food and food history. Although I greatly enjoyed Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which examines the problems regarding how our food is produced, I found In Defense of Food a more approachable, quicker read (and not just because it is a much shorter book). While some of Pollan’s ideas struck me as simple common sense, such as his recommendations to stick to “whole foods” such as fruits and vegetables, and to avoid as much processed food as possible, I still enjoyed learning about the history of nutritionism, the competing interests of the food industry, and the importance of the health of our food chain.

And I even learned a new word: orthorexia, which describes an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. By sticking with common sense and reason regarding what I eat, I am certain I can avoid it.

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