Last year at this time I was talking to you about sautéed beet greens. Today I’m bringing you sautéed Swiss chard. What can I say, I’m a one-trick pony when it comes to June vegetables. (Also, fun fact, I’m apparently thinking like the Italians, who refer to beet greens and chard almost interchangeably, says historian Clifford A. Wright.) While the name chard was originally a corruption of another French word, historically it’s been called everything from leaf beet and strawberry spinach to Roman kale, because it’s been considered so similar to these other greens. To a Nashville girl in 2014, carrying home bags of local greens from my CSA dropoff this past Monday night, that makes sense: because the main thing I was thinking while I washed earth off plants, cooking some and storing the rest, wasn’t how I wanted to highlight lamb’s quarters over collards or how intricate the differences were between the two. Instead it was the real and pressing need that all my greens have in common, namely this: I would need to find a way to cook and eat them all this week.
This year our vegetable CSA, CSA meaning community supported agriculture, or, essentially, a share of a particular farm’s produce, began in June. Every year it runs about through December, but the start date changes based on how the weather affects what grows, and this year it was a little later than last, so here in the initial weeks, things are still monochromatic. We leave with bags that bear twenty shades of green. And while this past week we’ve had beet green chips (excellent!) and, even in the sauna that is Nashville June, some pretty dreamy soup, we’ve also fallen back on the ever-beloved classic, the dish that reminds Tim of his childhood and me of old blog posts: sautéed greens.
So here’s the thing with sautéed greens, whether you’re talking about chard or beet greens or spinach or kale: When they are done right, they are so, so right. Oily and wilty, warm and comforting, sautéed greens are satisfying and nostalgic, and even if you didn’t grow up eating them, like I didn’t grow up eating them, they taste like home. The problem is that when they’re done wrong, they are so, so wrong: limp and tasteless, swimming in a greenish liquid, the sort of mixture that makes people say things like they don’t like vegetables, no thanks. I realized, while writing this post, that I never order sautéed greens at restaurants anymore, which I don’t blame you for thinking is a pretentious thing to say. But here is the reason: Once you’ve had one gloppy mess of greens and tried to force it down, you know you never want to do that again.
So here is how we sauté greens or, in this case, how we sautéed Swiss chard with onions and toasted walnuts and raisins: You start by melting oil (ghee or coconut oil or butter are what we like best) in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add sliced onions, salt and pepper, reducing the heat and letting the onions soften and caramelize for about 15 minutes or so. Add nuts and raisins, toasting for 5 minutes. Add chard and a little more salt and some water. The greens themselves cook pretty quickly, in 10 minutes or less, but the flavorful, aromatic addins add so much value to the dish, they’re worth the extra initial time. Once the greens are soft and wilted, you taste and adjust for salt and you’re done! We’ve been known to eat greens like these for dinner, but you might like them alongside roast chicken or a big pot of grass-fed pot roast.