One day it’s Lilliputian. Then before you know it, it’s the mammoth plant from the Little Shop of Horrors. This is what happened to the Swiss chard in our garden thanks to a secret ingredient added to the soil. Well, it’s not so secret once you get a whiff of it. Think barnyard –with the animals locked in. It smelled bad -- really bad. The culprit? Well, my neighbors can blame my husband, who toted home two plastic buckets filled with chicken manure from a local farm. Even covering the excrement with water to dilute it didn’t help get rid of the
fowl, er, foul smell very much. But sprinkling that liquid potion over the soil has created the healthiest, largest Swiss chard leaves this side of Eden. See for yourself in the photo above, with a dinner fork perched on a leaf that measures at least 20 inches.
Leaves this huge provide the perfect vehicles for stuffing. Prepare extra and freeze for those months when fresh garden greens are a distant memory. I’ve made this in the past with a brown rice and ground beef stuffing (click here), but this time I used bread crumbs, ground turkey (a little healthier), and a generous helping of parmesan and mozzarella cheese (kind of mitigates the health benefits of the turkey but the gooey and savory factor is worth it).
First you’ve got to prepare the leaves. Remove the large center rib where it’s the thickest – maybe the first third or the first half of the leaf. Don’t throw it away – you can cook it as a separate vegetable. Then gently lower the leaves into boiling water and cook them for only a couple of minutes. The idea is to soften the leaves so you can roll them up. Admittedly it’s a messy job since it’s difficult to keep the leaves intact, but even if you rip them a little, it won’t matter. After I drain off the hot water, I have a bowl of cold water ready and waiting and slip the leaves into the bowl. It makes it a little easier to separate if the leaves aren’t all stuck together.
Then take each leaf, lay it over a paper towel and pat dry a little bit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little bit wet, just not sopping wet.
Then put the stuffing on one end and start to roll it up, tucking in the edges as you roll.
When you’re done, they’ll look like the ones in the photo below. At this point, you can freeze them, or bake them in the oven. I bake them one of two ways. The first is to put them in a greased casserole and give them a topping of herbed breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan cheese, then bake uncovered for about 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees. This will give you a crispy, savory coating.
The second (and the way I prepared them this time) is to top with some tomato sauce and a little more mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven (covered this time) for about 30-45 minutes.
One bite of this may convince you that the chicken manure smell wasn’t so bad after all.
Here’s the recipe I used for the stuffing, which filled about 10 large Swiss chard leaves, or enough for about 4 or 5 people, depending on appetites. It could even stretch farther, if you use less stuffing in each leaf.
Stuffed Swiss Chard
2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
salt, pepper to taste
tomato sauce to cover
another 1/4 cup grated mozzarella for the top
Saute the onion, garlic and green pepper in the olive oil until translucent. Add the turkey and cook through. Beat the eggs slightly in a bowl, then add the sauteed mixture from the pan, plus the parsley, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, mozzarella, salt and pepper. Mix it all together with your hands or a wooden spoon until it clumps together. Place a handful on each Swiss chard leaf that has been parboiled and drained. Roll it up and place in a casserole. Ladle over a little tomato sauce, a sprinkling of mozzarella and cover loosely with aluminum foil, making a kind of tent so the foil doesn’t stick to the cheese or to the tomato sauce. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees.