My mom’s garden is surrounded by a 12 foot fence. The door swings open and latches shut. She wages a constant battle against the deer and voles that try to graze and tunnel through her most prized beds. She drives her car out over the lawn, pulls up close to the garden and blasts the radio on high, listening to A Prairie Home Companion or Diana Krall as she works. As the sun sets, she comes up the hill, smiling, exhausted, bearing baskets of greens, covered in dirt. I change the music to Cesaria Evora and we all pitch in, setting the table and lighting candles. We eat at 9 PM.
Of all her crops, I always loved sorrel, which grew wild as a weed just inside the garden gate. Its leaves were cheek-sucking tart and stung the back of your teeth with their sour twang, but I’d wrap them around sweet golden cherry tomatoes that exploded in my mouth. My mom baked sorel tart; the greens floating in a cloud of cream, red onion and eggs, surrounded by a flaky, golden crust.
Last weekend was rainy and cold and beyond lovely. I walked out to the garden as the grey evening skies began to drizzle. I felt rich as I filled baskets with leaves of kale (a soft, bluish green with iridescent purple stalks, curling slightly at the edges), bright, glossy swiss chard (its rainbow stalks impossibly jewel-like), mint (growing in tall, bushy stalks saturated with scent), and lettuce (huge, crazy heads, exploding from the earth in green tinged with deep red). That night we ate pasta carbonara and a salad of peppery baby arugula and drank cool cans of summer beer.
Back home in Boston, in my newly painted kitchen, I examined my loot and went straight to my recipe bibles: Food52, Splendid Table, and Smitten Kitchen. When I say I love planning meals, I mean it:
I love writing grocery lists, planning the timing, and figuring out which cloves of garlic to chop, press and slice. Here’s what I decided on:
Zucchini spirals with mint and garlic. Mostly because I wanted to use my spiralizer, but also an intriguing combination. The mint and zuchinni spirals are briefly tossed in garlicky butter before serving. If you don’t have a spiralizer or a mandoline, a vegetable peeler should do it.
Kale Salad from Genius Recipes (a cookbook so beautiful and informative, I read it cover to cover like a novel). The salad has roasted butternut squash, the sharpest cheddar, and toasted almonds. I thought maybe this would taste too wintry, as butternut squash reminds me of cold November air and falling asleep by the fireplace. But against the peppery, light flavor of the Kale, the squash is the perfect burst of caramelized flavor.
Shredded Swiss chard salad with breadcrumbs and parmesan from Food 52: Make your own crumbs from your favorite loaf, toss in garlic, and add to thinly shredded chard. Shower with parmesan and lemony vinaigrette. Not a lot of room for error.
Chard pancakes, or farçous, from Dorie Greenspan (via the Splendid table). An excellent excuse to eat fried greens, these pancakes are loaded with chives, parsley and chard. When I make them again, I’ll go even heavier on the greens! These are deliciously satisfying, and could bring the most adamant vegetable-hater into the light.
For dessert, Cherries with vanilla ice cream. What else do you need in life, really?
Northern Spy Kale Salad (from Food52)
- 1/2 C cubed kabocha, butternut, or other winter squash
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- 1 bunch kale (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 C almonds, chopped roughly
- 1/4 C crumbled or finely chopped sharp cheddar (I like the good stuff–the sharpest possible)
- Fresh juice of 1 lemon
- Pecorino, for shaving (optional)
- Heat oven to 425° F. Toss squash cubes in just enough olive oil to coat, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet in the same oven until they start to smell nutty, tossing once, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the almonds, cheddar and squash. Season to taste with lemon juice and olive oil (about 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil–really just to taste). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide salad between two plates or shallow bowls. Garnish with shaved pecorino cheese, if desired, and serve.
Zucchini Spirals with Garlic and Mint (from the Splendid Table)
- 2 small to medium zucchini squash (1 pound)
- 1/2 t salt
- 1 T unsalted butter or olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 T finely shredded fresh spearmint
- Salt & pepper
- Cut the stems and bottom tips off the zucchini and slice them on a mandoline or other vegetable slicer into long spaghetti-like strips, about 1/8 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick. Toss them with the salt in a medium mixing bowl, then transfer them to a fine sieve or colander and set it over the mixing bowl. Let the zucchini sit for 15 minutes at room temperature, then gently squeeze it in your hands to extract some of the water. It will give off at least 1/2 cup.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic to the pan and stir until it loses its raw fragrance but is not browned, less than 1 minute. Add the zucchini and mint and toss with tongs just until heated through, about 1 minutes. Taste and season with pepper.
Shredded Chard Salad with Garlicky Breadcrumbs & Parmesan (from Food52)
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- 1 lemon (for zest and juice)
- 1/2 C olive oil
- 1 1/2 C fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/4 C grated Parmesan
- Wash and dry the chard and remove the stems from the leaves. Set aside. Zest and juice the lemon. Combine about 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest and a few generous pinches of salt in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Set aside.
- Warm the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until they are crisp and golden brown (about 5 minutes). Be careful not to burn them! Stir in the garlic and let them toast for another minute, then remove from the heat.
- Separate the chard leaves from their stems. Finely chop the stems. (To get them thinly shredded: stack a few of the leaves on top of each other, roll them like a cigar and cut the cigar into thin ribbons.) Put the chard stems and leaves into a large bowl and toss gently with the Parmesan and about 2/3 of the lemony dressing. Taste and add more dressing if you like. Toss in the toasted breadcrumbs and you’re ready to serve!
Swiss Chard Pancakes (from the Splendid Table)
Note: The original recipe makes enough batter to feed a small army. I was cooking for 2, and we each ate about 3 pancakes. I’ve halved the recipe below, but if you’re cooking for a crowd, use the link above!
- 1 C whole milk
- 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 large eggs (1 egg and 1 yolk)
- 1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 shallot, coarsely chopped, rinsed, and patted dry
- 1 garlic clove, split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
- Leaves from 10 parsley sprigs
- 10 fresh chives, snipped
- Salt & pepper
- 5 large or 10 small Swiss chard leaves, center ribs removed, washed, and dried
- About 1/2 cup grapeseed, peanut, or vegetable oil
- Put the milk, flour, eggs, onion, shallot, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and whir until the batter is smooth. Little by little, add the chard to the mix and whir to incorporate it. There’s no need to pulverize the chard — having some strands is nice.
- Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet and place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a drop of batter should seize immediately), spoon in a scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake — don’t crowd the pan: depending on the size of the pan, 4 pancakes is probably max per batch. Cook the pancakes for about 3 minutes, until the underside is nicely browned and the edges are browned and curled. Flip the pancakes over and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Transfer the pancakes to the paper-towel-lined plate, cover with more towels, and pat off the excess oil. You can place them on the foil-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you continue to make pancakes, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
Traditionally, farçous are served with a salad as a main course. If you want to serve the farçous as an hors d’oeuvre, you might want to include a dipping sauce or topping of crème fraîche, or plain yogurt.
(We ate them plain and enjoyed every bite thoroughly!)
Here’s the feast in all it’s green glory: (there were no leftovers!!)
And finally, dessert: