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Mediterranean Braised Chard with Farro

May 7, 2010

Mediterranean Braised Chard with Farro

The last half of April ended up slipping by in a blur of airplane travel and hot barbecue: I spent a good portion of the end of the month in South Dakota, where my family gathered to mourn the loss of both my Grandma and Grandpa within six days of each other. It was an exceedingly difficult time for all of us, but it was tempered by the joy we found in being together. Having grown up in California, far away from my mother’s side of the family, this was the first time I’d seen some of my cousins in many, many years, and being together, remembering our childhoods visiting Grandma’s house and laughing about our parents’ stories of their wayward youths made the sadness we all felt a little lighter.

One thing that didn’t make anyone feel a little lighter, however, were the dozens and dozens of hot dishes, meat platters, dips and chips and beans and cookies and bars that I think every single person in my Grandparents’ small town brought to the house. It was amazing to see the outpouring of care that came from neighbors, church members, and old high school friends, and they all came with comfort in the form of food. And what was a little challenging for me was that almost all of that food had meat in it! The pinnacle of meat-laden hilarity came when I opened up a tray of raw vegetables with a dish of vegetable dip in the center, after a week of craving something green, and discovered that the dip was full of bacon. I mean, it was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I would not want to attempt to be vegan in Madison, South Dakota.

The family trip was sandwiched on both ends by work travel to Chicago and a trip to San Francisco to see Mr. X, and while I am always happy to be in San Francisco and to see my partner, it was an immense relief to get back into my kitchen last night. It was an even bigger relief to eat this big bowl of greens and grains. I probably would have loved them even if they hadn’t been flavored at all, but as it happened, the combination of flavors in this Mediterranean braise were pretty phenomenal.

The original recipe came from Chow’s recipe newsletter, and I bookmarked it immediately. I’m a sucker for braised greens and Mediterranean flavors, AND I had leftover anchovies in my refrigerator, so I thought it would be a great welcome home to my kitchen. I also picked up some Farro at a local co-op market and this seemed like the perfect chance to give it a shot. And it was.

Greens and Grains

I cooked the Farro very plainly, with only a little salt for seasoning, because I really wanted to taste the grain. It was wonderful: chewy and a little nutty and it paired very well with the braised grains. The only downside is that the grain has to be soaked for eight hours before cooking, which means I will have to plan ahead whenever I want to cook with it. I’ve done a little research and it doesn’t sound like the soaking is absolutely necessary, though, so I’ll let you know if I discover a less planning-intensive way to prepare. Farro cooks much like rice: add twice the amount of liquid as grain, and cook over low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it’s soft, but still has a little bite. (If you try to cook without soaking, using three parts water to one part grain, and cook for about 40 to 50 minutes instead.)

Once the Farro is about 15 minutes from being done, you can start cooking the greens.

Swiss Chard

Mediterranean Braised Chard
Adapted from Chow

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • about 1/3 cup of prunes, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons capers, rinsed (I used salt packed)
  • about 4 cups chard, chopped
  • about 1/3 cup of vegetable broth
  • about 7 or 8 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • juice from half a lemon

The original recipe says to save the stems and cook them, but I discarded them instead. I’m not really a fan of the stems. If you do want to use the stems, separate them from the leaves and chop them into half-inch pieces. Chop the leaves into inch-wide strips. If they’re too big, they’ll be kind of a pain to eat, but it’s not too important, as they’re going to wilt a lot.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot, anchovies, and prunes, and cook until the shallots are light golden and the anchovies have dissolved into a paste. Add the capers and the garlic, and saute for another 30 seconds more. Then add in the chard in large handfuls.

Tongs are very helpful for mixing the chard in with the other ingredients and getting it all coated in oil. Keep adding chard until it begins to wilt and soften. Once the chard is all in the skillet, add the vegetable broth. Scrape up the bits from the skillet and stir periodically while the chard cooks down, for about 10 minutes. The chard should become wilted and silky, and the broth should thicken. Once it’s cooked through and to the level of wilted softness you like, stir in the olives and pine nuts, finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve on it’s own or over a bed of Farro or another grain you like.

I didn’t add extra salt to this because the capers, anchovies, and olives were salty enough, but salt to your own taste, and add a bit of pepper if you like.

Mediterranean Braised Chard with Farro

If anything, this big bowl of greens showed me that macaroni and cheese isn’t the only comfort food. While I feel certain that there will be a fair amount of chocolate, cheese, and wine in my life in the coming weeks (all of which are excellent when you’re feeling sad and crappy), there will also be a lot more greens and grains. And if I’m ever in a position to bring someone a big dish of food when they’re going through a rough time, I might just bring something like this.

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