The weather turned reliably warm and my chard bolted. I don’t mean, found the door and vamoosed. I mean, developed thick, faceted stems and prepared to go to seed. Chard in my experience is slow to bolt, but this patch was over-wintered — first time ever for me – and it’s time. Everything else that over-wintered – kale, Asian celery and parsley – is also bolting. Oh man, I have to clean out the garden just as the CSA is starting up, yielding a ridiculous amount of greens. What to do?
Think pantry thoughts. There’s little you can’t pickle or preserve in one way or another, prolonging its life just a little or a lot. As you know from my earlier post on “aigre-doux,” I’ve been combing through Paul Virant’s The Preservation Kitchen, a recently published book by a Chicago restaurateur who’s a fan of stocking a pantry full of ingredients that either complement or become essential ingredients in dishes he makes for his customers. He’s also a great fan of combining pickled and non-pickled versions of the same vegetable, asparagus for example, or chard.
The chard stems are a quick pickle, meaning that they’re intended to be consumed within a few days and are not processed. The chard stems are lightly poached in a combination of Champagne vinegar, honey and water. The lightness of the vinegar and the use of honey impart and intriguing delicateness to the sweet-tart pickle. My chard was white but this would be great with yellow- or orange-stemmed chard, which I’m growing this season, or pink.
The pickles are fine on their own as a condiment. Virant suggests adding them to cooked chard leaves, which was very good. I also added cooked chickpeas to make a more substantial meal.
And finally, the full build-out tossed the chard and chickpea combination into fettuccine to which I added cubes of crisped prosciutto. This made a full-bodied and flavorful meal. However, the richness of the pasta and chickpeas were offset well by the chard greens and the piquant pickled stems.
Just as with aigre-doux, I have an issue with the sequencing of his recipe. He makes the vinegar mixture first, and then prepares the vegetables. Vinegar loses its oomph when heated and evaporates. Maybe he meant to weaken the vinegar mixture, but I doubt it.
Pickled Chard Stems adapted from Paul Virant
2-3 cups chard stems, sliced ¼-inch thick (see below)
½ c champagne vinegar
½ c water
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp kosher salt
To prepare the chard stems, slice the leaves from the thick stalks and cut the stems crosswise into ¼-inch slices. Alternatively, depending on the shape of the stems, slice them into ¼-inch wide matchsticks.
Bring the vinegar, water, honey and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the chard stems and bring back to a simmer. (The liquid may not fully cover the stems.) Cook gently, stirring occasionally to make that all of the stem pieces absorb some brine, for about 4-5 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat and let the stems cool in the liquid.
If you are not serving them right away, refrigerate the chard stems in the liquid for up to 2 weeks.
Sauteed Chard Leaves with Pickled Stems adapted from Paul Virant
1 lb chard leaves, stripped of their stems
2 tbsp olive oil
Picked chard stems (see recipe above)
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the chard, shake off excess water and cut the leaves crosswise into 1-inch strips
Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and add the chard, stirring it until wilted. Serve tossed with picked chard stems. Season with salt and pepper.