Chard and gratins were meant for each other. One is brisk and purist, the other mellow and indulgent. Together, you get the business and pleasure all in one. I prefer chard to spinach for its sweetness and generosity; spinach excites you with its color and volume, and then lets you down as soon as it cooks, wilting to nothingness. Chard keeps its promises, and offers up hardy stems for bonus points.
I came across Nigel Slater's Chard Gratin through my friend Jacob Weisberg, the chairman of The Slate Group, who has become a devotee of Slater's book, Tender, ever since judging the book for our cookbook tournament, The Piglet. Slater's recipe is a great reminder of why gratins are such a staple and why detailed recipes for them are superfluous. A chard gratin is about bathing freshly wilted chard in warm cream and topping it with a blanket of cheese. The oven does the rest of the work. In Slater's version, he inserts one key twist -- he blends coarse grain mustard into the cream, giving the easy-going gratin a welcome kick in the pants.
Let me show you how easy it is to make. First gather your 5 ingredients: chard, Parmesan, heavy cream, and mustard.
Wilt the chard stems and leaves -- don't forget to squeeze out the leaves -- and spread them in a buttered gratin dish.
Whisk mustard into cream. Pour this over the chard, just enough to soak it.
Sprinkle on the cheese.
Then toss it into a hot oven to gratinée.
From Tender by Nigel Slater
Serves 4 as a side
1 pound chard, stems and leaves
Butter, for the baking dish
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
A handful of grated parmesan
Photos by James Ransom