Swiss Chard and Red Pepper Gratin
What? Another gratin? Has the kitchen really gotten this boring? Well, actually no. This gratin couldn’t be more different from last week’s Sweet Potato and Spinach Gratin. In fact, I’m not even really sure that this is a gratin. It seems a lot more like a frittata, but if the New York Times wants to call it a gratin, who am I to argue?
I bookmarked this one a year and a half ago, and every time I came across it subsequently, it just didn’t catch my attention the way it had at first. But this week, for some reason, it stood out. I think it was the red peppers. I buy red peppers so infrequently in the winter that I can’t even remember the last time I had them. But the red peppers at the produce market last weekend were so brilliantly red I couldn’t resist them. And I was intrigued by what looked like a frittata with rice, which I’ve been eating a lot more of lately, so I decided I had to try it. I only wish I’d tried it sooner.
I have to admit, it was a little more labor intensive than I usually care for on a Monday night, and I ended up eating dinner later than normal. I was pretty much starving by the time it came out of the oven, which might have strongly influenced my feelings about its taste. But I thought it was pretty phenomenal. There is just the right amount of egg, so it’s not super breakfast-y, but holds everything together well. The vegetables are cut up into small pieces, which gives the whole dish a more uniform texture than I usually go for in frittata, but which I really liked. And the flavor is just right: nothing is overpowering and it all just blends well together.
Those bright colors just made me so happy last night. I feel like red foods are few and far between in the winter. I’m mean, sure, apples and potatoes might have red skins, but their predominant hue is beige. Canned tomatoes do retain a rosy hue, but once they’re cooked they seem so much more subdued. Red cabbage and beets aren’t really red, they are a deep, stately purple, which is certainly pretty and all, but red peppers? I absolutely love the way they make you sit up and take notice. And at this time of year, they are like a small whisper that summer, and all of its vegetal glory, is coming soon.
Swiss Chard and Red Pepper Gratin
Adapted from The New York Times
- 1/4 cup arborio rice
- 1/2 cup water or stock
- 1 big bunch of Swiss chard
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 1 large or 2 medium red peppers
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3/4 cup Irish Aged Cheddar, grated (or Gruyere or Swiss)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup water or milk
- a small handful of breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Start by cooking the rice. I was worried this would take forever, but it’s such a small amount of rice that it cooked up while I was chopping and prepping all the vegetables. I usually cook rice by heating a little oil in a small skillet, toasting the rice in the hot oil for a minute or two, than adding the liquid, bringing it to a boil, and lowering it to a simmer. Then I just let it cook, covered, for as long as it takes for all the liquid to be absorbed. In this case, it took about 10 or 15 minutes. When it’s done, just set it aside to cool a little bit.
While the rice is cooking, chop the stems off the Swiss chard and set aside. Rinse the chard, dry it, and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Slice the stems into small slices, and set them aside. Chop the onions and the red peppers both into a pretty uniform small dice, and mince the garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the onions and cook for about two or three minutes, or until they are soft and golden. Add the Swiss chard stems and cook for another two or three minutes, then stir in the red peppers. Add the thyme and paprika, and cook until the peppers are just beginning to soften. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set the mixture aside in a large mixing bowl.
Heat another tablespoon or so of oil in the same skillet and add about half the chard. Cook until it begins to wilt, then stir in half the garlic. Continue to cook until it’s almost completely wilted, then add it to the mixing bowl with the red pepper mixture. Cook the rest of the chard and garlic the same way, and add it, too, to the mixing bowl.
Now stir the rice and most of the cheese into the red pepper and chard mixture, and mix very well. Beat the eggs and the milk or water together until they are smooth, then slowly stir the eggs into the red pepper and chard. The red pepper and chard should be cooled off a little so the eggs don’t start to cook too fast.
Lightly oil a smallish casserole dish (approximately an 8 x 11 inch dish), and pour the egg mixture into the dish. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F. Take the dish out and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs, then return to the oven and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes. Let the dish cool for about 10 minutes before serving. This should serve two or three people for dinner, or four as a side dish. It would probably also make a fine breakfast.
I keep thinking of this gratin as my springtime bridge: It’s a casserole full of winter greens, but with a touch of summer to remind you that warmer days are on their way. And here in Walla Walla, warmer days have already greeted us, here and there. This past weekend was absolutely beautiful: 60 degrees and sunny. Of course, it’s a little chilly today, but it looks like we have more 60 degree days on the way, which means I can start getting out in my yard and preparing for planting. Everything is so incredibly green right now, it makes me realize just how much I missed spring, living in Boston. Well, spring has certainly arrived here, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope it’s on its way where you live. If it still seems faraway, this will be the perfect dish to help you remember that it will arrive, eventually.