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Seasonal Kitchen: Chard

One of the season’s most stunning vegetables is chard.

Available from June through September, this beautiful leafy green has large, deeply ribbed and crinkled leaves that range in color from green to red. But it’s their vibrantly colored stocks that really steal the show. Depending on the variety, stems can be golden yellow, hot pink, scarlet red, bright orange, pearly white, or deep burgundy – each with different flavor nuances.

Rainbow chard is a mix of these different colored varieties and offers up a wide spectrum of flavor.

Chard, also called Swiss chard or silver beet, belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. But unlike beets, chard sends most of its energy up to its stocks and leaves rather than down to its roots. Chard is a descendant of the sea beet, a wild seashore plant found along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe and North Africa. It has been around for thousands of years, used abundantly in Mediterranean cooking.

Not only is chard colorful and inspiring in the kitchen, it is a nutritional powerhouse – full of anti-inflammatory agents and a multitude of antioxidants – but one of the most significant health benefits of chard is its unusual ability to regulate blood sugar.

If you are new to chard, branch out this week. Head to your closest farmers market, pick up a bunch and discover the many ways to incorporate this healthy green into your everyday diet.

Slightly bitter, tangy, pungent, earthy and a bit salty, chard adds a lovely complexity to a multitude of dishes. Red chard, sometimes called ruby chard, tends to have an earthier flavor while white-stemmed chard is sweeter.

Young chard is less bitter and can be chopped and tossed raw into salads. It loves to be paired with lemony dressings. Its sturdy leaves won’t wilt quickly when dressed, making it a great candidate for any make-ahead salads.

Mature leaves are delicious in long and slow braises or quickly sautéed with olive oil, garlic and lemon served as a healthy side to your favorite protein, or tossed with pasta, for a quick flavorful vegetarian meal.

Treat chard as you would spinach and you won’t go wrong – sautéing it and adding it to a quiche or frittata, or simply folded into scrambled eggs.

Chard livens up soups, stews and casseroles, and holds up to slow cooking. It really loves to be paired with beans and legumes, so try adding it to your next batch of white bean or minestrone soup, or tuck some into a lasagna. If you’re feeling creative, the colorful stems of rainbow chard are beautiful to pickle. Leave them long and vertical in the mason jar for a dramatic effect.

To keep chard from wilting in the fridge, store it in a plastic storage bag, squeezing out as much air from the bag as possible and sealing it well.

Warm Lentils with Wilted Chard, Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese

3-4 small beets (enough for 2 people)

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cups cooked lentils

1/2 a red onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, rough chopped

4 cups (packed) chard or rainbow chard, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles

Fresh basil, thyme or Italian parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim beets and cut into 1/2-inch slices or wedges. Place on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until tender, about 25-30 minutes.

If cooking lentils, place 3/4 cup dried lentils in a small pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn heat down to a simmer, cook about 25-30 minutes or until tender but still hold their shape. Drain.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add diced onion and sauté 3-4 minutes. Turn heat down to medium, add garlic and cook 2 more minutes, until golden and fragrant.

Lower heat to medium low. Add chard and gently wilt, just slightly, about 2-3 more minutes.

Add 2 cups cooked lentils to the skillet, gently folding them in and warming. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add beets and splash with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Let vinegar cook down for just a couple minutes. Taste, and adjust salt. Sprinkle with goat cheese and optional spring herbs. Serve immediately.

Makes: 2 extra-hearty portions

Note: 2 cups cooked lentils is about ¾ cup dry.

Garlicky Chard Pasta with Toasted Bread Crumbs

For the pasta:

4-5 ounces linguini

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 fat garlic cloves – rough chopped

1 shallot, finely sliced

1 bunch chard, chopped, stems separated

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper

Lemon zest from one lemon

Chili flakes, toasted pine nuts, Pecorino cheese (optional)

For the bread crumbs:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup bread – crumbled and torn

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring, until fragrant and golden. Add chard stems and sauté for 2 minutes, then add rest of chard, gently wilting. Turn heat off.

To make the toasted bread crumbs, heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add torn and crumbled bread crumbs and gently toast, stirring often. For extra garlic flavor, add another clove of sliced garlic to the toasting crumbs. Cook until golden and crisp. Set aside.

Drain the pasta, and add to the skillet of wilted chard along with the lemon zest, salt and pepper, heating up gently. Toss well, adding a little more olive oil if necessary, just enough to lightly coat the noodles. Taste, add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like and adjust salt. Divide among two bowls and sprinkle with optional chili flakes, toasted bread crumbs and pecorino, or leave the cheese off and keep it vegan.

Yield: 2 servings

Mediterranean Chard Salad

For the salad:

4 cups shredded baby or young chard

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

4 radishes, sliced (or sub grated carrots)

1/2 English cucumber, sliced

6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 avocado, sliced

1/4 cup kalamata olives (optional)

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/4 cup toasted pepitas

For the dressing:

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place salad ingredients in a large bowl. Either separate ingredients into small piles over the greens, or toss all.

Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.

Dress the salad and toss. Note: You will probably not need all the dressing.

Adjust salt and lemon, adding more if necessary.

Chard varies greatly in flavor, salt level and bitterness, so tasting after tossing is important, then you can adjust depending on variety.

Yield: 2 servings

Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods, every other month in Seasonal Kitchen. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home.