Thursday, November 12, 2009

swiss chard and sweet potato gratin

swiss chard and sweet potato gratin

Surely I’m not alone in this: When I’m eating starchy foods, I think I should be eating more greens. When I’m eating my greens, I wish I had heavier foods to balance them. And pretty much all of the time, I wonder why it has been so long since I made macaroni and cheese.

so much chard!yamsmise, messgreens and yams gratin

And this is what happens when I stewed all of these thoughts together in my head over countless feedings. I love sweet potatoes but I find most preparations of them too heavy and sweet (which is why I stick to spicing, curry-ing and/or spicing, curry-ing and frittering them); I love chard but I find most preparations of it too earnest but when I put these together in a gratin I ended up with the most bubbling, gurgling, cooing delight of a fall comfort there could be.

(Or maybe I’m just talking about the baby.)

gray day

To me, this is the best of all worlds: so rich and cozy, it makes your apartment smell like there’s not a single good reason to leave it, but also chock-full of peak season, straight-from-the-market produce that I’d like to believe could not imagine a more decadent way to go out.

swiss chard and sweet potato gratin

One year ago: Home Fries, Apple Pancakes, Fennel, Proscuitto and Pomegranate Salad, Olive Oil Muffins and Chicken Pot Pie
Two years ago: Apricot and Walnut Vareniki, Chicken with Chanterelles and Pearl Onions and Pumpkin Waffles
Three years ago: Grilled Cheese and Cream of Tomato Soup and Cranberry Sauce, Three Ways

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin

I won’t lie, Swiss chard can be a real pain to prep, what with the rib-separation and rendering of unfathomable volumes down to a few measly cups of cooked greens. I like to chop, wash and dry mine the day before, but if you’re especially in a rush, I see no reason you can’t swap pre-washed (3 pounds) or even frozen spinach (about 5 to 6 cups). I also don’t see why you can’t swap the sweet potato for thin slices of butternut squash but then you will have less of an exuse to say “yam-yam” to the baby over and over again until he laughs.

Finally, if my gratin looks a little “wet” to you, don’t worry, yours — providing you squeeze your greens out well — should not. I just mindlessly baked mine for half the time covered with foil which is not a bad idea for all-potato gratins, not drying enough for greens.

Serves 12

1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 pounds Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into 1-inch pieces
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream or whole milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyére cheese

Prep greens: Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a wide 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender but not browned, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper then transfer greens to a colander to drain well and press out liquid with back of a large spoon.

Make sauce: Combine cream or milk and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, whisking, one minute, then slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, one minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Assemble gratin: Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter deep 9×13 baking dish. Spread half of sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a 1/4 cup of the cheese. Distribute half of the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and 1/4 cup of the cheese over it. Pour half of bechamel sauce over the first two layers then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs and cheese and then the remaining greens, salt, pepper and herbs. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the gratin, pressing the vegetables slightly to ensure that they are as submerged as possible. Sprinkle with the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake gratin for about 1 hour until golden and bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Do ahead: You can make the entire gratin but not bake it up to a day in advance and keep it in the fridge. You can also make and bake the gratin and reheat it. Gratins reheat well, but they take almost as much time to gently heat through as they do to bake in the first place, especially deep ones like this. As for reheating, already baked and frozen, I will find out very soon! But I am near-positive it will be fine.


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