It’s that time in late Spring when most well-intentioned locavores start to feel a little worn out. This condition, known to some as “CSA fatigue,” arises after about the fifth consecutive week that you’ve gone to the Farmers Market to find that each stall carries iterations of the same greens. Mustard greens, kale, more kale, chard, radishes. If you’re lucky, maybe the odd bunch of asparagus. You’ve eaten salads with every meal, it feels like. You’ve never been so ‘regular’ in your life. You’ve started to think longingly and guiltily about tomatoes – luscious, sweet tomatoes – no doubt flown in hundreds of miles and so verboten. In god’s name, how many different things can you do with Swiss chard?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll feature recipes that hopefully supply inspiration on new things to do with seasonal produce. By the time I’ve run out of ideas, the first local tomatoes and sweet corn will come in, and we will all breathe a collective sigh of relief as we head out to our barbecues.
This is a favourite “what the heck do I do with all these greens” recipe. I confess I’ve never been a huge fan of cooked spinach. I like a green that retains some texture when cooked. Here, I’ve substituted chard for spinach in this classic Greek vegetarian dish, which combines cooked greens with onions, herbs, feta cheese and phyllo dough. The chard is great. It stands up to the salty acid tang of the feta cheese without being too dominant. Also – bonus – you can make spanakopita, freeze it, and serve it when you need to feed guests or make a quick dinner. Best of all, this recipe uses all of the chard, leaves and stalks. Remember that if you are using frozen phyllo dough, the dough will need to thaw outside of your fridge for four or five hours, so be sure to plan ahead.
One large bunch Swiss chard (about 20 stalks), leaves separated from stalks, stalks trimmed and finely chopped
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
¼ – 1/3 cup (about 60-80 ml) olive oil
1 – 1.5 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/3 pound (about 175 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons mascarpone or ricotta
2 large eggs
10-15 sheets of phyllo dough (about half a pound, or 250 grams)
Remove phyllo dough from fridge or freezer and bring to room temperature. (If you’re using frozen dough, you’ll need to do this four to five hours ahead of time.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet or deep wide pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the chard leaves, working in batches in necessary, until wilted (about three minutes or so). Remove the chard from the pan using tongs or a slotted spoon, trying to leave behind as much liquid as possible, and set aside to cool. When the chard is cool, squeeze out any remaining liquid and chop coarsely.
Sauté the onion with the chard stems in the remaining olive oil with one teaspoon of the salt, paprika, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using) until tender. Stir in the chard leaves, nutmeg, and lemon juice, and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes more, just until the leaves are incorporated. Stir in the basil, and taste and adjust seasonings. Remember that your feta may be very salty, so be judicious in adding additional salt.
Remove the vegetable mixture from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Whisk together the eggs, feta, and mascarpone/ricotta, and stir into the cooled vegetable mixture.
You can make the spanakopita into individual pastry triangles, as I have done, or you can bake it in a square pan. If you’re using a square pan, cut 16 sheets of phyllo to fit the pan. Layer eight sheets on the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter before layering on the next one, spread the chard mixture over this base, and then layer the eight remaining sheets over the top, again brushing each sheet with melted butter before placing on the next. Score the top gently into squares or triangles to make the pastry easier to cut when baked. Prior to baking, brush the surface with melted butter.
If you want filled triangles (great as an hors d’oeuvre or finger food for a party) you’ll need to make each individually. Spread a single sheet of phyllo pastry on a board, making sure to cover or wrap the remaining phyllo in the interim so it does not dry out, and cut the sheet into three-inch-wide (five centimetre) strips. Brush each strip with butter. Spoon a heaping teaspoonful of filling onto the base of each strip, again trying to keep the filling as ‘dry’ as possible. Fold from one corner over into a triangle, then fold that triangle over again, and so on, as if folding a flag. If your phyllo tears, don’t worry, just keep folding.
If you’re freezing your spanakopita, you should do so now. To freeze, layer the triangles in a single layer on parchment and freeze until fully frozen, then transfer to a container. You can put the spanakopita straight into the oven from the freezer; just expect it to take longer to cook.
Otherwise, place the finished triangles on a baking tray. Brush the tops with additional melted butter and bake 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about three dozen filled pastries, or 6-8 individual servings.