I love sturdy winter greens like kale and chard and look forward to their arrival at the market every single year. I usually do nothing more than saute them with garlic and chile flakes and finish with a squeeze of lemon—the simplicity of that is too appealing to pass up—but you have to actually love the flavor for it to work.
If that's not the case (or maybe you're trying to sneak in some greens for the kids), this recipe from The Art of Simple Food would convert just about anybody to Swiss chard. And while that rule could be applied to most gratins—heavy amounts of cream and cheese works wonders—Waters opts instead for a sprinkle of flour to thicken the base of milk. It keeps the taste clean and light while still bringing that stick-to-the-bones heartiness. I served it with a seared piece of salmon seasoned simply with salt and pepper.
- 3 bunches chard, washed and stemmed (save half the stems)
- 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- Salt to taste
- 4 teaspoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- Freshly grated nutmeg
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Thinly slice the reserved chard stems, add them to the water, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the leaves and continue cooking until tender, about 3-4 minutes longer. Drain and allow to cool, then gently squeeze out the excess liquid and coarsely chop.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoons of butter and toss the breadcrumbs, then spread them out on a small baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, then add the onion. Sweat until translucent, 5-7 minutes, then stir in the chard and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 3 minutes, then sprinkle the flour over the chard and stir well to coat. Add the milk and nutmeg and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes as the mixture thickens. The chard should be just moist, but not overly wet, or else the gratin won't brown properly. Taste and season with salt.
Butter a baking dish and spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish. Dot with the remaining butter and top with the breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and bubbling, 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve.