Chard times: Skye Gyngell celebrates the earthy delights of this fibrous vegetable

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Indy Lifestyle Online

When I was young my least-favourite vegetables in the world were spinach and chard – they were always overcooked and under-seasoned and something I had to force myself to eat, gagging, before I could leave the table. Thankfully, things have changed and I can honestly say that chard is probably my favourite vegetable in the world. Now, I would quite happily eat a plate of chard all on its own with nothing more as an accompaniment than a good drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sadly, chard is often overlooked, perhaps because it is one of those vegetables many are unsure what to do with. Yet its slightly fibrous texture and sweet and earthy flavour pair well with almost anything.

If you have a little space in your garden, try growing it – it takes very little effort and looks beautiful, especially the variety known as rainbow chard with its pink, yellow and vibrantly red stalks. My favourite? The Swiss variety, with its thick, flavourful, cream-coloured stalks.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

How to cook chard

For all dishes, chard should be handled and cooked in the same way. Once cooked, it can be eaten on its own either warm or cold or tossed through stews and slow-cooked dishes right at the end.

To prepare, place a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. Wash the chard well under running water. Shake off the excess water then separate the leaves from the stalks by running a sharp knife down both sides of the spine of the vegetable. Now slice the stalks into one-inch pieces; once the water has boiled, add the stalks and cook for 3-4 minutes. The stalks should be tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Now add the leaves and cook for no longer than a minute. Drain and toss with the stalks. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Salad of chard, beetroot, Parma ham and Parmesan

This easy salad comprises two ingredients that sit happily side by side in the vegetable garden. Equally good without the ham and cheese and served with grilled fish or lamb.

Serves 4

12 little beetroots, red and golden if possible
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 bunch of chard, prepared as left
A further 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
The zest of one unwaxed lemon
12 very fine slices of Parma ham
75g/3oz Parmesan, very finely sliced

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Scrub the beetroots clean, leaving the skin on. Season and place in a baking tray. Drizzle over the oil and cover with foil. Place on the middle shelf of the oven for an hour and a half. The beetroot should be soft enough to pierce with a sharp knife easily. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the vinegar. Set aside to cool. Cook the chard according to the instructions, left, and, while warm, toss with the remaining oil, lemon zest and juice. Season and allow to cool to room temperature. To serve, place the beetroot and chard on a plate and finish with the Parmesan and Parma ham.

Aubergine and chard gratin

Serves 4

11/2kg/3lb aubergines, sliced into half-inch rounds
Sea salt and black pepper
Enough olive oil to shallow-fry
40g/11/2oz unsalted butter
1kg/2lb ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
400ml/14fl oz crème fraîche
1 tbsp chopped tarragon, leaves only
1 bunch basil, leaves only, torn
60g/21/2oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of chard, prepared as far left

Lay the aubergine slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to degorge the bitter juices for 30 minutes then pat dry with kitchen paper. Now heat a 1cm depth of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat. Fry the aubergine a few slices at a time, until golden-brown on both sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

In a separate pan, heat the butter gently. Add the chopped tomatoes and garlic and season with a good pinch of salt. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes until the tomatoes are soft. Meanwhile, place the crème fraîche into a small pan and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Allow to bubble and reduce by a third. Take off the heat and add the tarragon and basil. Add half the Parmesan and taste for seasoning.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Line the bottom of a large, oven-proof baking dish with aubergine, follow with a layer of chard and then a thin layer of the tomato sauce and a little crème fraîche. Continue to layer, finishing with the aubergine, pour over whatever crème fraîche is left and sprinkle over the Parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden-brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving

Lamb with red peppers, chard and paprika

Serves 4

11/2kg/3lb trimmed shoulder of lamb
100ml/31/2fl oz olive oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 red peppers, cut into one-inch seedless slices
2 tbsp sweet paprika
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
1kg/2lb ripe tomatoes
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
A few sprigs of thyme
500ml/17fl oz dry white wine
1 cup of cooked chickpeas
1 bunch of chard

Place a saucepan large enough to comfortably hold the shoulder of lamb over a medium heat on the stove. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil, season the meat generously all over and, when the oil is warm, add the shoulder and brown well all over. Remove from the pan, add the onions and cook until they are soft but not brown – this will take about 10 minutes. Add the peppers, paprika, garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes, chilli and thyme. Return the lamb to the pan and pour over the wine, topping up with a little water if the lamb is not covered. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat to its lowest setting and cook for two-and-a-half hours. The meat should be soft and falling apart. Now add the rest of the olive oil and chickpeas, turn up the heat for a few minutes and adjust seasoning; it will need both salt and pepper. Drape over the chard and serve hot.

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