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.
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.
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
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.
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.