Chard “lasagna” with fennel, roasted reds, olives, and walnut ricotta

chard lasagna

chard lasagna

One summer, when I was 11 or 12, I fell down a lot. I skinned my knees so many times in one summer that they’re still mapped with scars. I don’t remember being all that bothered by it. At some point scabby knees became normal for me – itching and peeling and catching on my clothes. A few years later I fell off my bike on the way to my piano teacher’s house and I cried for a week. There’s no accounting for my irrationally fervent response, but everything seemed suddenly so fragile and vulnerable and poignant. My boys seem to like falling. When Isaac’s nervous and trying to impress someone he’ll make a silly face and topple to the ground. Pratfalls never fail to amaze! When they’re riding skateboards and scooters, it always seems to me that they’re learning how to fall as much as they’re learning how to ride – it’s an equally important skill. Of course, raising children is a pattern of watching them fall and then get back up again. When they first sit up, and they’re so proud and so happy with their new vantage point, and then they just…tip over. When they’re learning how to walk, and you brace yourself for the sickening sound of hard little head on pavement. Sometimes they bounce back, sometimes they crumple and wail. Malcolm has always loved to climb – chairs, tables, trees, rocks. I could create an extensive photo essay of “Malcolm sitting on top of things.” It was hard to let him go, at first. I remember consciously telling myself not to blurt out “be careful” as he clambered from chair to table. And, of course, that was the exact moment he fell. Mostly I let him go, now, because I trust him to know what he can do. I close my eyes and hold my breath and wait to look till he’s safely on the earth again. I’ve been thinking about falling a lot, lately, for some reason. When I’m running with Clio, or walking down the stairs, I can imagine myself falling, I can almost feel that it’s going to happen, so I go very cautiously. I feel gravity’s pull more. I dream about falling and wake myself with a start, like a newborn. When Clio and Malcolm jump and climb and clamber, it’s not just that they’re young and strong and agile, it’s that they don’t doubt themselves. It never occurs to them for a second that they might not make it. If Clio is behind the tall-backed couch and wants to be on the other side, she doesn’t run around the couch, or get out a measuring tape and calculate the height of the back of the couch, she doesn’t take a few trial hops. She doesn’t imagine what would happen if she wipes out before she reaches the top of the couch. She leaps! When Malcolm scales a giant rock-face, he doesn’t catastrophize about what would happen if he slips, he clambers happily to the top and beams down at us from on high.

I love giant chard leaves. It always feels like such a shame to chop them up. So I decided to leave them whole and use them in a sort of lasagna, instead of noodles. I have layers of braised fennel with roasted peppers, capers and olives, layers of melty mozzarella, layers of walnut ricotta, and layers of chard leaves. It turned out very tasty indeed! The walnut ricotta is made with walnuts, olive oil, balsamic, rosemary and honey, and it’s very earthy and good. Nice all together!

Here’s Tom Waits with Falling Down.

THE CHARD

1 large bunch of chard, washed

Cut the stems from the chard, but leave the leaves in tact otherwise. The longer, fresher leaves of chard are better for this purpose. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and drop in the chard leaves. Cook for about 7 or 8 minutes, until soft but bright. Drain completely.

THE FENNEL & PEPPER

2 T olive oil
1 shallot – minced
2 cloves garlic – minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried basil or small handful of fresh
1 t dried thyme, or a few sprigs of fresh – leaves only
1 t dried rosemary, or a sprig of fresh, leaves only, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, feathers and core removed, chopped quite fine
2 roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, cut into thin strips about 1 inch long
splash of white wine
a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 t capers
salt and black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and pepper flakes. Cook for a minute or two until the shallot starts to brown. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, and dried basil, if using. Cook for about a minute, until the garlic starts to brown. Add the fennel, cook for a minute or two till it starts to brown and soften, and then add the red pepper.

Pour a splash of white wine over to help loosen all the flavorful stuff on the bottom of the pan, and stir and cook until the wine is reduced. Stir in the olives, tomatoes and capers, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes are wilted and the pan is fairly dry.

WALNUT RICOTTA

1 cup walnuts
1 slice whole wheat bread, soaked in water and drained
3 T olive oil
2 t rosemeary
2 t honey
1 t balsalmic
1/2 t salt
1 t smoked paprika
3 T water
lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs

In a blender or food processor, combine everything except the water, eggs, and pepper. Process until you have a chunky paste. Add the water, and process until the paste is silky and smooth. Add the eggs and process till well combined.

4 oz (+/-) mozzarella, thinly sliced, plus a handful grated or chopped very fine.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Preheat the oven to 400. In a medium-size roasting pan or oven-proof bowl with tall sides, spread a layer of half the fennel and pepper mixture. Top with half the ricotta, spreading it to evenly cover the vegetables. Cover with a thin layer of cheese slices. Stretch a few chard leaves over, as you would with lasagna noodles. It might be a bit tangled, but don’t worry about it, just try to cover the space evenly. Repeat the layers. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella over the top layer of chard leaves.

Cook for about 25 – 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Let sit and cool for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

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