As soon as the ground warms, spring time gardners prepare to sown the seeds of one of Italy’s iconic vegetable. Our Nonna’s friend, Angelo would bring us weekly bundles of chard throughout the growing season. Versatile at all stages of growth from spring to late fall, chard can be clipped early for fresh baby greens, the young stalks can be cooked like asparagus, the mature leaves cooked like spinach and larger/mature stalks added to fritters and frittatas.
Recent research has shown that chard leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants, including kaempferol, a cardioprotective flavonoid also found in broccoli, kale and strawberries. Another primary flavonoid found in the leaves of chard is syringic acid known for its blood sugar regulating properties. Shown to inhibit the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady offering special benefits for blood sugar control.
Sometimes referred to as Swiss Chard, chard was first identified by a Swiss botanist (possibly accounting for its name). Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans it is wildly popular in the Mediterranean and in Italy Swiss Chard, (bietola) or coste as it is called by the Piemontesi, is a used to flavor soups, pasta, pizza, meatballs, sauces, strudel, served over polenta, as a contorno (side dish) sautéed and slightly wilted with extra virgin olive oil and garlic and in the making of a torta salata (savory pie).
Rainbow Torta di Bietola (Swiss Chard Tart)
Heat 2 T of extra virgin olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 cloves of garlic; saut 1 minute. Add 2 large bunches (about 1 lb.) of Rainbow Swiss chard (a mixture of red, white and yellow stalks) coarsely chopped leaves and stalks; sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly. Mix in –
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 375°F. To complete you will need 1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges, leaving 1-inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with pastry brush dipped into water. Roll out second pastry sheet to 13-inch square. Using tart pan as guide, trim pastry square to 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in. Brush with egg wash. Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.