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Swiss Chard, Potato & Caramelized Onion Gratin

December 30, 2010

For Christmas this year, Patrick gave me a cookbook that I’ve been lusting after for a few months now—Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables. It was on sale at our local grocery store and, on more than one occasion, I snuck over to the cookbook section while shopping to flip through it for ideas. Patrick waited for me in line enough times to get the hint. Now it’s mine. It’s full of simple (mostly vegetarian) recipes, organized by vegetable and season. Brussels sprouts, for example, are currently in season—hence the pasta from earlier this week. Chard likewise is in season. And the Chez Panisse recipe for Chard Gratin sounded delicious and pretty simple.

Did I say simple? Well, the recipe as written in Chez Panisse Vegetables probably is pretty simple. Did I make it that way? No. Did I make it fussy and complicated? Yes. Did I curse myself halfway through the prep? Several times. In other words, this meal was the exact opposite of our meal from the night before. But oh was it ever delicious. And so worth it. I added a number of extra steps and ingredients—potatoes, caramelized onions, and gruyere—but this made the dish a rich and hearty main, rather than a simple side (not that it wouldn’t also make a delicious side dish). Serve with a leafy green salad on a cold winter night. And enjoy.

SWISS CHARD, POTATO & CARAMELIZED ONION GRATIN

Adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables and N.Y. Times

Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Serves 4

2 large bundles of swiss chard (any variety will work; here, I used a mix of red & rainbow chard)
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs (approximate)*
2 tablespoons butter
olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat a couple splashes of olive oil. Add the onion, along with a little salt and pepper. Cook (stirring occasionally) for about 7 minutes, until the onion is translucent and just beginning to turn golden. Reduce the heat to low, and cook (stirring occasionally) until the onions are a deep golden color and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, rinse the chard and remove the thick ends of the stems. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, and parboil the chard for 1-2 minutes. Drain the chard, squeeze the water from the leaves, and coarsely chop.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan (I used the same one in which I caramelized the onions) over medium-low heat. Add the chard and cook for about 5 minutes; the chard will finish cooking, and the excess water from the parboil will evaporate. Next, add the garlic, and cook 1-2 minutes more, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make your breadcrumbs (if you don’t already have homemade ones on hand). Remove the crusts from 2-3 pieces of rustic bread; tear into pieces, toss in the food processor, and pulse until coarse crumbs are formed. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small pan. Remove from heat, and stir in the breadcrumbs, along with a pinch of salt, until the crumbs are lightly coated in the butter. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. Set aside.

Next, slice your potatoes about 1/8 inch thick. I use the mandoline attachment on my food processor—it’s incredibly quick and easy. But a regular mandoline or a sharp knife would work equally well here. Now (finally!) you’re ready to assemble the gratin:

Butter or lightly oil your baking pan or gratin dish. I don’t have a gratin dish, so I used a large baking dish instead—it worked just fine. Arrange 1/3 of the potato slices in a slightly overlapping layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In this order, top with 1/2 of the caramelized onions, 1/3 gruyere cheese, and 1/2 swiss chard. Drizzle 1/3 of the cream and nutmeg mixture on top. Next, arrange another 1/3 of the potatoes on top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with the last of the caramelized onions, another 1/3 of the gruyere, and the remaining swiss chard. Drizzle another 1/3 of the cream and nutmeg mixture on top. Arrange the final layer of potatoes on top. Drizzle the last of the cream and nutmeg mixture over the potatoes and, using clean hands, gently press down on everything so that it settles in the baking dish and the cream distributes evenly throughout. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, the last 1/3 of gruyere and, finally, the bread crumbs.

Bake at 400F for 45 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

* For my rant on why you really should make your own breadcrumbs, check out the very end of this post.

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