Gratin of Chard and Gruyére
Big and leafy, looking like an exceptionally healthy leaf of spinach and with several colourful varieties, Chard is great. The most well-known variety with its thick white stalk and glossy leaves is sometimes called Swiss chard. The colourful members of the family are the red stemmed Ruby chard and the variety known as Bright Lights or Rainbow chard which has a range of multi coloured stems varying from white, yellow and orange to pink, purple and red. Generally, unless the leaves are tiny, the stalk is removed from the leaf and cooked separately. The cooked leaves and stalks can be served together or as individual dishes. The flavour of the leaf is similar to spinach, but somewhat stronger and earthier in flavour, though the two greens are pretty much interchangeable in any recipe. I like to cut out the stalks or stems from the leaves with a sharp knife to achieve a neat finish. This is another vegetable that needs to be well cooked and there is no flavour or texture advantage to having to chew it when eating it cooked. The tiniest leaves, no more than 8cm long and including the stems, colourful or otherwise sometimes end up in the salad bowl. This recipe combines the vegetable with gruyere in a gratin and is finished with a crisp bread topping. This dish can be prepared ahead and reheated later. It will make a delicious vegetarian supper dish or to serve with a roast shoulder of lamb or a grilled lamb chop.
3 litres (5 1/4 pints/generous 6 cups) of water
3 teaspoons of salt
2 1/4lb (1kg) chard
30g (1 1/4oz/generous 1/4 stick) butter
30g (1 1/4oz/generous 1/4 cup) flour
350ml (12fl oz/1 1/2 cups) whole milk
50ml (2fl oz/scant 1/4 cup) cream or use 400ml (14fl oz/1 3/4 cups) whole milk
160g (Gruyére cheese, coarsely grated
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) marjoram leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g (2 1/2oz) coarse bread sour dough crumbs
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) olive oil
Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.
Bring the water to a boil and add the salt. Remove the stalks from the chard with a sharp knife. Cut the stalks against the grain in 2cm (3/4 inch) pieces. Add the stalks to the boiling water and cook at a simmer for about 6 minutes or until nearly tender. Add the leaves to the pot and cook for a further 3 minutes until the leaves and the stalks are both cooked. Strain off all of the water and allow the chard to sit in the strainer to drain off the rest of the water.
Toss the bread crumbs in the olive oil and spread out on to a baking tray and place in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until toasted and golden. The crumbs tend to cook unevenly, so you will need to move them around on the tray a couple of times during the cooking. When ready, remove from the oven and reserve for later.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir to mix. Cook on a gentle heat for about 3 minutes to cook the flour. You have just made a roux and this mixture will thicken the sauce. Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil while whisking constantly. The sauce will by now have thickened. Turn the heat down low and allow the sauce to simmer for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the drained chard to the sauce with 110g (4oz) of the grated gruyére and the chopped marjoram and mix gently but thoroughly. Taste again and correct seasoning.
Place the mixture in an ovenproof gratin dish and sprinkle on the remaining gruyere and finally the roasted bread crumbs.
The gratin can be put aside for later or reheated now in a moderate oven, 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 for about 15 to 20 minutes until bubbling and golden. If you are reheating it from cold it will need 30 minutes.