From the same family as leaf beet and perpetual spinach it is mainly grown for its stem although I like to make full use of the coarse leaf as well. For me, it is a vital vegetable in so much that it offers a quality and interesting alternative to late summer and winter vegetables. They have to be seen growing to be truly appreciated, they provide a wonderful splash of colour in the vegetable garden, thick stems of red, yellow and white with large leaves they almost beg to be cooked in a rustic Italian soup or risotto.
How to Grow
I sow two crops of chard a year, the first crop is grown in seed trays and planted out in early summer with a second sowing directly into the growing site at the end of August. This way I am guaranteed healthy, tender young stems and leaves throughout the back end of the year, as the first crop comes to an end the second is beginning to show signs of promise. Chard is a robust vegetable but doesn’t like the interference of weeds, especially in the early stages, keep the ground well hoed and treat the plants to a liquid feed. They are surprisingly tolerant to dry conditions but do not neglect them. Cut the stems as and when needed, they will keep in a refrigerator for two to three days but wilt very easily, far better to cut what you need as close to cooking time as possible.
How to Cook
Chard is an invaluable ingredient for Italian style soups, risottos and as a vegetable in its own right. Be careful not to add too much or it will overpower everything else, chard has a distinctive taste and balance is paramount. Wash the stems and leaves, cut the stems into manageable pieces and then cook slowly in a generous splash of olive oil and a little chopped garlic. As the stems begin to soften add the chopped leaves and season generously with freshly ground salt and pepper. A squeeze of fresh lemon works wonders here just prior to serving. You could try one of my favorites which is a braise of chard with tomato, garlic and Provencal herbs baked underneath a crust of fresh breadcrumbs, Provencal herbs, garlic and parsley.