Sunday, January 27, 2008

January Chard

This time of year I crave fresh greens. I've had all the roasted beets I want for awhile, delicious and versatile though they are. The Co-op has lots of pretty green things, but they mostly come from far away and I'm trying to reactivate my local winter palate.

Local produce can be scarce, and the surviving garden crops tend to be tough and raggedy. In my small city garden the regular lettuce is gone and the corn salad is so hunkered down and so mud-spattered that's it's hard to get excited about it. So, it's pretty much down to kale, leeks, and chard.

Today I'm going for chard. Unlike kale, chard's flavor doesn't improve with a freeze. The surviving leaves tend to be a bit leathery and strong tasting, so a quick stirfry doesn't always do the trick. I like make variations on a traditional Sicilian pizza topping. I use olive oil; butter could work for strict locavores, or the greens can be braised over lower heat with a touch of hazelnut oil from Holmquists Hazelnuts in northern Whatcom County.

Chop up onions and/or leeks and garlic, maybe a cup of the oniony flavors to a large bunch of chard, including stems, and cook until onions are soft and chard is limp. I use a cast-iron skillet. Add two or three dried tomatoes. (Soak them in hot water for 15 minutes first, unless they are already cured in olive oil and therefore soft.) If your Sicilian loyalty outweighs your local foodshed convictions, you may want to add sliced Sicilian olives, a handful of raisins (traditional and weirdly good), and an anchovy that will dissolve into an untraceable and delicious additional flavor. Simmer the combination, covered, for another 10-15 minutes.

The results take the boredom right out of winter meals. Italians bake it on a pizza crust. Cheese isn't really needed, but locally made Cotija tastes great. It also goes well with pasta, and locavores can use it on wonderful Whatcom grown potatoes.

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