Swiss chard is a versatile crop that can be sown from spring through to late summer or early autumn. It is, perhaps, most useful when sown late and overwintered for a spring harvest, when other vegetables can be in short supply. The young plants stand well through the winter and then put on vigorous growth as conditions improve in the spring, providing a great harvest from a relatively small space. At this time of year, the chard is just about to go to seed, so the harvest from the overwintered plants is coming to an end. When young, the smaller leaves can be used for the salad, whilst the larger leaves can be cooked like spinach. The thick ribs can also be cooked separately or added to stocks and soups. I often prepare a dish with both, braising the ribs until tender and adding the greens towards the end of cooking. At this time of year, though, the ribs are a little coarse so I wanted a quick side dish to use up the last of the enormous leaves.
Although the leaves are typically a rich dark green, the ribs come in a variety of colours. I do grow the red stemmed rhubarb chard from time to time, but generally prefer the white stemmed forms. I am not a fan of the more gaudy colours, either in the garden or the kitchen, but they do seem to be quite popular at the moment. As I am only using the leaves in this dish, the colour of the stems does not matter. For a quick side dish, I soften some chopped onion in a drop of olive oil and a generous knob of butter, add garlic, and then the chard leaves. This would be fine just as sautéed greens, but sweetcorn adds some useful sweetness to offset the earthy taste of the chard. It is not exactly a seasonal addition and I must confess that mine came canned rather than preserved from last year’s harvest – all of our corn has, so far, been eaten fresh. In its season there is nothing better than a buttery cob of corn and we have not yet grown so much that we have had any problem demolishing the entire harvest.
Although they are cooked at a high temperature and most of the liquid will boil off, sautéed greens can still be a little wet when served and it is not pleasant to have watery juice running over one’s plate. The addition of a teaspoon or so of plain flour near the end of cooking will serve to deal with what little liquid remains. The flour needs to be cooked out for several minutes but with a little care it works well, without any floury taste and without being at all gloopy; one should not be able to discern that any flour was added to the dish.
I have prepared this dish several times, with and without a little dry cured smoked streaky bacon. Both versions are good, so the bacon really is optional. I imagine that it would work equally well with spinach or other leafy greens, perhaps even young kale. The dish is simple, with just a few ingredients, and quite quick to prepare. It can be cooked in about the time it takes to steam some new potatoes, which we are harvesting at the moment from our earliest sowing made in 15 litre pots in the glasshouses. It makes a good side dish or could perhaps be the basis of a light lunch.