What was I thinking when I planted so much rainbow chard? I love the brilliance of the yellow, red, pink, orange stems that sport deep green leaves. Such generous plants, gorgeous to look at and sometimes a little overwhelming in quantity. Goodness knows the leaves shrink down when you cook it, which the stalks do not. So, I can usually turn the leaves into something useful and delicious but I don’t think I am the only one who wonders what to do with all those stalks.
Chard soup really is so easy and doesn’t require an honest-to-goodness recipe. I shredded up a big wad of chard leaves, steeped them in hot water for a few hours until they were velvety smooth and tender, heaved in a couple of garlic cloves, about two cups of cooked cannellini beans, and, almost as an after-thought, a few pieces of leftover ham, salt and pepper and that was that. It tasted so good, perfect for one of those chilly, windy days we’ve had lately.
While it cooked, I agonized over the stems. I have used them as a kind of celery, sliced very thinly and added to a salad. I’ve cut them in finger-sized lengths and along with other crudités, dunked them into various dips. I’ve chopped them and tossed them into stir-fries. I kept thinking that there must be Something More I could do with them.
You can use chopped chard stems in frittatas or quiche-like items, but how many frittatas and quiches can a person eat? I tried making quick pickles out of them with a sweet and sour brine. Nope. Terrible. I found a recipe for a chard stem pesto that has parsley pureed with it, along with garlic and oil. So-so. Uninspiring. I simply wasn’t going to add them to the soup because I didn’t want that much lumpy stuff in it.
I think, ultimately, raw chard stems as a quasi-celery is still my best bet, and I choose useful stems judiciously because only the most tender are suitable. I noticed not even the chickens will eat the older, tougher stems, so it is time I stopped fretting over wasting chard stems. Of course, if one of you has a terrific way with stems, I bet I will hear from you. By the way, I remove only the section of stem that has no leaves attached, so there is still some stem in the soup.
Meanwhile, I went so far as to cook shredded chard leaves in water until quite tender, then I froze the result in small blocks by putting it in storage containers which I unmolded to store the frozen broth in plastic zip-bags. There is my winter chard soup supply, just like that, ready for me to add cannellini beans and, maybe next time, spicy sausage.
I served the soup with a mere dribble of olive oil, and good old crusty bread dipped in more olive oil and salt. Lovely.
- Large bunch of chard
- Garlic cloves, to taste
- Cannellini Beans, cooked or canned
- Ham or Sausage, optional
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Red Pepper flakes, optional
- Remove the heavy stems from the chard, then shred the leaves.
- Put the leaves into a cooking pot and add enough water to barely cover.
- Puree the garlic and add to the pot.
- Cook over a low temperature until the leaves are very tender.
- Add cannellini beans to taste, along with ham or bits of browned sausage to taste.
- Taste and add salt and pepper, optional red pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.
- Cook over a low heat for another half-hour, just to heat the beans through.
- Serve with grated parmesan sprinkled over it.