While growing up, Mom introduced us to a number of vegetables, with varying degrees of success depending upon the person. (Yes, I’m looking at you.) For the most part, she used one method when cooking vegetables and it’s pretty much the same as is used throughout Italy. I mention this, particularly the latter part, because we Americans tend to like our vegetables to be cooked but with some crispness retained. Well, not to disappoint anyone, but I’ve eaten my way across Italy a few of times and I’ve yet to be served a vegetable that was cooked al dente. It’s just not done, I’m afraid, but that doesn’t mean that the dishes aren’t tasty or are any less desirable. Besides, some, like kale or rapini, may be a little bitter while others, like Swiss chard, may have ribs or stems that are a little tough. This method of cooking will cut some of that.
Although the recipe below mentions Swiss chard specifically, it’s the technique and not the vegetable that’s important. Briefly, you bring a pot of salted water to boil, blanch the vegetable for a few minutes, and sauté it in garlic-flavored extra virgin olive oil. Now, if you’ve watched any televised chefs, you’ve seen them do this, or something very similar, but they will place the vegetable in cold water after blanching. This will insure that the vegetable retains its brilliant color and, if I’m entertaining, I’ll do it, too. But I don’t entertain every night and placing them into an ice bath just adds another step and more time to my dinner prep, not to mention another dish to clean. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t chill ’em if it’s just Max and me for dinner. Being color blind, he’s not likely to object.
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total time: approx. 30 minutes
- 2 – 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 bunch of Swiss chard.
- 1 small yellow onion, sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Add olive oil and garlic to a medium-sized frying pan and heat at medium until the garlic begins to brown, a few minutes. Discard the garlic, add the onion, and sauté until it becomes fully translucent and before caramelization starts.
- While the garlic is flavoring the olive oil, fill a medium sauce pan with water and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, clean and prep the chard. Leave as much of the stems as you find palatable. Separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into pieces no larger than one inch long. Rough chop the leaves into pieces slightly larger than you would for a salad.
- When the water boils, add the salt and then the chard stem pieces. The length of time the stems stay in the pot depends on how crisp you like them. The less time they boil, the more al dente they’ll be. A little before the stems are cooked to your liking, add the chard leaves to the pot.
- After 2 minutes, strain everything out of the boiling water and add to the frying pan with the onion. Be careful: the oil may splatter when it comes in contact with the wet chard.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, season with salt and pepper, and sauté the chard and onions until cooked to your liking. Serve.
Rather than list variations, here are some of the vegetables that can be cooked utilizing this method: rapini, asparagus, kale, broccolini, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, cabbage, and even brussels sprouts. Some, like rapini or kale, may need more time sautéing, while others, like brussels sprouts will, also, need a lengthier time in the boiling water. You should skip the blanching altogether when you’re cooking delicate greens, like baby spinach, frisée, or arugula. Whether to include onions or, as pictured, a little tomato, is up to you and learning to flavor olive oil with garlic before sautéing is a neat trick. So, go ahead and give ’em a try. Let Common Sense and your own palate be your guides.
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