Editors' Picks

Anna Klinger's Grilled Chard Stems with Anchovy Vinaigrette

September 26, 2012

Every week -- often with your help --  FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: An outcast vegetable scrap gets a makeover.

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In 1998, when chef Anna Klinger and her husband Emiliano Coppa opened Al Di La in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the neighborhood wasn't yet swanky, and neither were the stems and cores and other less glamorous bits of our vegetables. Not yet.


But Klinger found herself with a lot of lowly byproduct when the restaurant, and one of her signature dishes, took off -- a Swiss chard malfatti, naked dumplings of ricotta and chard. "We made so many malfatti that we ended up with mountains of stems and it didn't seem right to just discard them." Klinger told me. "Not in the Italian spirit of cooking to do that."

Swiss chard's stems have the same mineral flavor as the leaves, but lack their gloss and buoyant texture. The stems instead can be stringy and a little standoffish, and are prone to fraying at their bottoms. It's no wonder so many people quietly toss them at the compost bin.

The most resourceful -- or cheap, or guilt-ridden -- among us have figured out how to chop the stems finely and sauté them with onions and garlic before adding the chopped leaves to the pan: a little whole beast cookery to take pride in. We may also choose to pickle, braise, or gratinée them. 

But I think Klinger, faced with her mountains, might have devised the most impressive way to tease out the stems' innate sweetness. (For the record, I have to thank Peter Kaminsky for pointing me to her method.) She blanches them in well-salted water, grills them, then swaddles them in an anchovy vinaigrette.

blanching chard  chard stems

Give an outcast vegetable scrap a little salty char and a rich, meaty dressing, and you have yourself a side dish. That's an easy takeaway here. But it's also the light hand Klinger uses that makes this recipe more than just that -- it's a true honoring of the stems, wallflowers no more.

For the dressing, she prefers salt-packed anchovies, rather than the tinned-in-oil kind, which she finds can sometimes taste a bit rancid. After rinsing the anchovies, and lifting off their little skeletons and tails, she soaks the fillets in a few changes of milk to mellow out the salt.

salt-packed anchovies

how to fillet an anchovy  filleted anchovy

(Despite what you might be thinking, anchovy milk actually tastes pretty good. Put that stuff in a bechamel!)

milk soaked anchovy

These milk-drunk anchovies are the bulk of the dressing, along with some garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of chile flakes. Only once the stems are grilled soft and lapping up their anchovy sauce, she shakes in a little sherry vinegar too. Now it's a vinaigrette.

"The vinaigrette has become this amazing wonder sauce that we use all over the place." Klinger told me. "It's a wonderful dressing for so many vegetables." (Amanda's kids even ate it on their ham sandwiches last week.) 

This recipe makes more dressing than you'll need, but it keeps, so feel free to put it on everything. Your lettuce cores, your carrot tops -- what other gems might you be throwing away?

Anna Klinger's Grilled Swiss Chard Stems with Anchovy Vinaigrette

From Chef Anna Klinger of Al Di La in Park Slope, Brooklyn

Serves 4

Anchovy Vinaigrette:

2 ounces anchovies (preferably salt-packed, cleaned, rinsed, and soaked in a few changes of milk)
1/2 ounce minced garlic (about 3 small cloves)
3/4 cup + 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (or more to taste)

Grilled Swiss Chard Stems:

Stems from 1 large bunch Swiss chard (save greens for another use)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Anchovy Vinaigrette
Splash sherry vinegar

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Beth I. S.
    Beth I. S.
  • Marie Viljoen
    Marie Viljoen
  • Lilismom
  • MizVrolyk
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Beth I. November 4, 2014
Finally ate at Al Di La over the weekend, so glad to have found this recipe! I can't stop thinking about how delicious these stems were.
Marie V. January 23, 2013
These stems, at Al Di La, are one of the best things to eat on the planet. Thank you for detailing the method.
Lilismom December 17, 2012
What are the best salt packed anchovies and where can I get them?
Kristen M. December 17, 2012
This is the brand Anna Klinger uses, and you can order it on Amazon if you don't have it locally! http://www.amazon.com/Recca-Salted-Anchovies-Weight-Drained/dp/B00025644O?tag=food52-20
MizVrolyk October 7, 2012
Love this use of chard stems (Kale is up next - I hope it also works). The anchovy vinaigrette is amazing !!!!
Alexandra S. September 26, 2012
Oh my gosh, this is SO genius. I have never as tempting a recipe for chard stems as this. But I think if you put that dressing on anything on my plate, I'd be happy. Yum. Love your column!
Kristen M. September 27, 2012
Thank you!
emmycooks September 26, 2012
I can't wait to try this. Anything I can grill and dress with anchovies is good in my book! This sounds like it might even compete with my usual favorite chard stem preparation, which includes tomatoes, garlic, and Parmesan: http://emmycooks.com/2012/05/21/baked-chard-stems-with-tomato-garlic-and-parmesan/ And for the record, I don't throw my carrot tops away anymore either since I started making Carrot Top Soup! http://emmycooks.com/2012/07/23/carrot-top-soup/ If you have ideas for my lettuce cores, I'm all ears. :)
Kristen M. September 27, 2012
Wow -- you're a pro at using up scraps! I love the idea of baking chard stems in tomato sauce.
AntoniaJames September 26, 2012
Oh, I cannot wait to try this! What perfect timing, too, as I start to long for chard again. And that dressing looks likes it's going to become a regular in my fridge . . . . ;o)
Kristen M. September 27, 2012
Another surprisingly good destination for chard (and cure for chard longing) -- this soup: http://food52.com/recipes/17263_rick_bayless_tortilla_soup_with_shredded_chard
EmilyC September 26, 2012
Wow, this looks great. Never thought I'd be excited about chard stems, but indeed I am! (And I remember seeing something similar recently, maybe on FEED52, for broccoli stems, where you peel and cross-hatch them -- then throw them on the grill. Bet they'd be delicious prepared in the same way!)
savorthis September 26, 2012
I recently added a grilled broccoli stem recipe that was really fun to eat and so nice to not just be throwing them all in the compost: http://www.food52.com/recipes/18997_broccoli_marrow_with_pecan_garlic_butter. I love this idea too because I am usually feeling a little lazy with the stems but I bet this would be gorgeous with my rainbow chard stems!
Kristen M. September 27, 2012
More people should know the beauty of broccoli stems. Thank you both for spreading the word!