My introduction to Swiss chard was during a Sunday dinner at my future in-laws' home when I was about 16. There was the homemade sauce and pasta, meatballs, a roast, and a bowl of cooked, green, leafy vegetables that looked sort of like spinach. I asked what it was and my future father-in-law said, "It's Swiss chard. Eat some and it will clear up your face". I don't even remember if I tasted it at that time. But years later when I was married, my husband and I bought our first house and we planted a vegetable garden that included Swiss chard.
What is Swiss about Swiss chard? We lived in Switzerland for several years and I don't recall seeing any there. I've done some research to find that Swiss chard is so named because the Swiss botanist, Koch, determined the scientific name of the plant in the 19th century and the name honors his homeland. Swiss chard originates in the Mediterranean area specifically Sicily. If you check out Italian cookbooks, there are always recipes that use Swiss chard. My copy of the first Marcella Hazan has three different recipes, one for a tortellini filling, one for the stalks with parmesan, and the other for a cold salad of the cooked leaves.
According to the World's Healthiest Foods website, Swiss chard is the "valedictorian" of vegetables because it is so low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc, although there was no mention that it cleared up acne! It's been around for a long time and was used medicinally by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Botanically, Swiss chard is a member of the beet and spinach family and is very easy to grow. It is hardy to about 20 degrees F so you can sow the seed in the fall for an early spring crop. To harvest, pick the outer leaves of the plant and it will keep on producing throughout the growing season. I like the small leaves because they are tender. When the leaves get bigger then the stalk gets tougher much like celery. In that case, you can boil the stalks for about 10 minutes and then add the leaves. The Swiss chard available in the stores is often organically grown in California and has red, orange, or yellow stalks and veins and is called "Rainbow Chard".
All this brings me to my entry for the "Dollar Dish Duel". Some years ago on a cold, February Lenten Friday, I was trying to think of a meatless dinner. Before going to the grocery store, I took a walk around the yard and there in the vegetable garden was some beautiful Swiss chard, the first of the year. I picked a bowlful and cleaned it and then the following recipe was born.
CECI 'N CHARD
3 tablespoonfuls olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 can ceci (pronounced "chaychee", AKA chickpeas, garbanzo beans)
1 bunch of Swiss chard
1 cup vegetable broth (use a bouillon cube dissolved in a cup of boiling water)
1 lb of spaghetti
grated cheese either romano or parmesan
Warm the oil in a large skillet. Mince the garlic and cook in the oil. Drain the ceci well and add to the pan. Cook for a few minutes stirring often. Wash the Swiss chard thoroughly . Discard the stalks if overly large and tough. Chop into large pieces and add to the pan. Saute for a few minutes. Pour the vegetable broth into the pan, bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer and cover.
Cook the spaghetti and drain. Arrange the pasta on a platter. Pour the ceci and chard mixture over the pasta. Serve with grated cheese.
Cost of the dish:
The spaghetti was 0.88, the Swiss chard was 2.99, the can of ceci was 0.60 for a total of $4.47. The pantry staples were the bouillon cube, the olive oil and the garlic. That leaves only 0.53 for grated cheese. However, this dish will serve 4 to 6 persons and if you grow the chard in the garden then it's really cheap!!
P.S. Ginny here...time for The Dollar Dish Duel WINNER!!!!! My judges had a very difficult decision, as all the dollar dishes were excellent, but I think they were all up to the challenge. Just to let everyone know, I did not tell them anything about the entries until the round-up went up on Tuesday, in hopes of keeping them impartial. They read every blog entry and made their decision. The winner of the first Dollar Dish Duel is Kristin of the Pearl Onion for her Soft Boiled Egg Prosciutto with Rustic Toast. She will receive The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. Thank you again for participating!!! Also, thank you to my mother for the wonderful post!!! and my father for the delicious photo! Happy early Mother's Day!!!!