Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves

Swiss Chard - It's known as "The Queen of Greens" and for good reason. It's packed with valuable nutrients and a flavor that delivers - something like spinach but punchier. Growing up in an Italian household, it was not unusual to eat it cooked with a little olive oil, garlic and a dash of red hot pepper flakes. I still love to prepare it that way, but when I find myself with an abundance of the crinkly green leaves, like the one in the picture, I can't resist stuffing them with ground meat and brown rice and stashing them in the freezer for those days when I don't have time or inclination to cook.
I have served them with a bread crumb/parmesan cheese topping or smothered in tomato sauce. Either way, this recipe has a way of winning over any skeptics who've never tried this relative of the beet family.
You can be creative and use anything you like in the stuffing. I happened to have tomatoes and mushrooms on hand, but you can vary it and use anything you like - from carrots and celery to zucchini and peppers. You can even eliminate the meat entirely if you want to go strictly vegetarian.
For this recipe I chop off the thick stalks and use them separately in other recipes - soups or gratineed in a casserole. It's like getting two vegetables for the price of one.

Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves


1 cup raw brown rice, cooked in 3 cups water
Make this ahead of time and let it cool.

swiss chard leaves, about 16-20 large

1 1/2 pounds ground meat
1/2 medium onion
3 T. olive oil
several cloves of garlic, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
salt, pepper

Topping:
either a tomato sauce OR a mixture of:
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried basil
dash of red pepper flakes

Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. Cut off the stalks of the swiss chard and cook them in the boiling water for about two or three minutes. The point is to make them pliable enough to stuff easily. Drain and run cold water over the leaves to stop the cooking and to make them easier to work with.
Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil until translucent, then add the meat and saute until cooked through. Drain off any remaining water or oil and put into a large bowl. Saute the mushrooms until cooked, then add them to the bowl, along with the diced tomatoes, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooled rice to the bowl, then the beaten eggs and mix everything well.
Dry the swiss chard leaves a little, and lay them out on a counter top. Place about 1/4 cup of stuffing on each leaf, then start rolling up the leaves from the stalk end, folding in the sides as you roll. Place in a greased casserole. Top with either a tomato sauce or a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 1/2 hour.

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