Chard is perhaps nature’s equivalent of a supermarket BOGOF, supplying two vegetables for the price of one; sweet, crunchy stalks and earthy, iron-rich leaves with a delicious flavour, not dissimilar to that of spinach or kale. It’s also very easy to grow from seed, or buy plants from the garden centre. You can even grow it in window boxes and pots.
Chard is also called perpetual spinach and is related to beetroot, so I guess it comes as no great surprise that rainbow chard comes in much the same colour spectrum as heritage beets, from canary yellow through to sunset orange, candy pink and, my favourite variety, dark scarlet ruby chard.
Swiss chard, with its elegant ivory coloured stems and forest green leaves, is considered to be the most succulent of the chard family and perfect as a vegetable side dish in its own right. However, the more flamboyant, colourful varieties combine well with strong, nicoise flavours, such as olives, tomatoes, bacon and cheese, and work well in anything from salads to stir-fries, gratins and tarts.
In the recipe below, I’ve combined it with creamy Dolcelatte, but any soft blue cheese would work well. Served warm, with a few rashers of crisp pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, the tart would make a perfect alfresco summer lunch. Just add a crisp salad of ideally, freshly harvested bitter or peppery flavoured leaves, and a glass of chilled white wine!
For those of us blessed with a growing space, it’s well worth appointing a spot to chard, which can be purchased as small, but established, plants from nurseries or garden centres and planted out once the risk of frost has passed. However, if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, poly tunnel, (or even a conservatory or sunny windowsill), it’s hard to think of anything that stirs the soul as much as growing veg from seed. Yes, it can be a risky business, not knowing if or when they will germinate or thrive, but, the thrill of potting on those tiny seedlings you’ve raised from scratch, be it few or many, is a hard one to beat.
Ruby chard and Dolcelatte tart
Swiss or rainbow chard can also be used in this tart, but the combination of red veined leaves and ruby stalks, punctuated with coal black olives look particularly dramatic.
If preferred, substitute the chard with young spinach leaves, or even a mixture of both.
For the tart case
200g all butter shortcrust pastry
For the filling
- 200g ruby chard, washed and trimmed
- 40g unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 100g Dolcelatte cheese, rind removed
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 150ml whole milk
- 150ml double cream
- 60g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- A handful of pitted nicoise olives, optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 200⁰C/gas mark 6.
- Roll out the pastry and use to line an 8cm flan ring. Chill for 20 – 30 minutes, then, bake blind until cooked through and crisp. Lower the oven temperature to 180⁰C/gas mark 4.
- Meanwhile, chop the chard stalks finely and the leaves roughly.
- Melt the butter in a large, shallow pan, add the onion and fry over a very low heat until soft and golden; about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds.
- Add the chard stalks to the pan, season with salt and black pepper and fry briskly for 3 – 4 minutes until just tender. Stir in the chard leaves and cook for a further 1 – 2 minutes, or until wilted. Set aside to cool.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the egg, egg yolk, milk, cream and half of the Parmesan cheese. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper.
- To assemble the tart, spoon the cooled chard mixture over the bottom of the cooked pastry case. Crumble the Dolcelatte into smallish pieces and dot them over the chard. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the chard and cheese and scatter the olives on top, if using.
- Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the tart and bake in the centre of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is just set and the top is a light golden brown colour.
- Allow the tart to cool slightly before cutting into wedges and serve with a crisp garden leaf salad.