Friday 14 December 2007

Unctuous and Silky Silverbeet Gratin

After a childhood aversion to silverbeet, (known in the states as swiss chard) I am coming round to liking it. So I was interested to see this recipe for a Swiss Chard Gratin by Andrea Chesman with a claim that it was the start of her love affair with swiss chard.

I decided to try it with an eye to learning to love silverbeet. The result was pretty damn good. But I feel this is cheating. Who doesn’t love anything smothered in a rich creamy cheese sauce! No matter, it is still a good way to eat it and I like her description of chard’s texture becoming “unctuous and silky” when cooked longer.

I am currently enjoying Andrea Chesman’s Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook. I have borrowed it from the library and am loathe to give it back. It has some good recipes but more interesting is all the fascinating information about vegetables. I love reading about each vegetable’s place in history and myth. It is definitely an advantage of some of these natural foods over processed foods – the link with our past.

Silverbeet, or swiss chard, was cultivated as a leaf vegetable in Greece by around 400 BC. In the 16th century that beetroot branched off from this leaf vegetable. What a nice idea that vegetables have family trees (“and your great great great grandfather was used as a vegetable just like your third cousin asparagus”).

Forgive me my anthropomorphising but Ms Chesman has me feeling enthused about the secret life of vegetables. She also talked about all the names that silverbeet is known by – white beet, strawberry spinach, seakale beet, leaf beet, Sicilian beet, spinach beet, Chilean beet, Roman kale, perpetual spinach and swiss chard. Makes it sound like an undercover agent with many aliases. Maybe kids should be introduced to Secret Agent Silverbeet!

The gratin was indeed creamy and delicious. After trying to use up all my silverbeet, I finally come across a recipe for which I didn’t have quite enough. I halved the recipe and it served 2 of us nicely. I served it with a couscous and vegetable salad seasoned with tahini and lemon juice. The salad didn’t quite work – the couscous was a little dry so the cheese sauce was much needed. But I think I would recommend eating the gratin with just lightly steamed or sautéed vegetables and maybe some bread.

Silverbeet Gratin
(from The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook)
Serves 4-6

2 pounds (12-16 stems with leaves) of ruby, green or rainbow silverbeet (chard), stems sliced and leaves cut into 1 inch ribbons
50g butter
1 onion sliced (I chopped it by mistake)
¼ cup plain flour
2 cups milk (I used low fat)
1 cup Gruryere cheese (I used light tasty cheese and doubled it)
Salt and pepper
¼ cup dried breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking tray or a largish casserole dish.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add silverbeet stems and simmer about 2 minutes. Add leaves and simmer about another minute (how hard is it to time an exact minute – I am sure I did a little more and it was fine). Drain well.

Melt butter in medium saucepan and add onions. Saute about 3 minutes til soft. Stir in flour and then gradually stir in milk and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and add cheese. Remove from heat, add silverbeet and season. Spoon into prepared dish ad sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.

Bake 25-35 minutes until sauce is bubbling and top is browned.

On the Stereo:
The Very Best of Jerry Garcia: Jerry Garcia


  1. Well, that's the recipe to do it. Win you over, that is!

    You know, it's really easy to grow silverbeet and rainbow chard in containers too. In case you felt like branching out even futher!!

  2. thanks Lucy - I always think it is easy to grow because we seemed to have so much of it in the garden when I was growing up and i was never something in the garden that my mum complained about.

    I can't consider much more in the garden at the moment - especially as our parsley is not thriving - but it is good to know if I do decide to grow it, I will also enjoy eating it!


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