Who needs spring tulips when the kitchen garden offers Bright Lights chard! After picking a bunch of this lovely, overwintered chard the other day, I couldn’t resist arranging it in a rainbow and setting it out to admire.
The variety I’ve grown for the past few years is Bright Lights, Johnny’s Selected Seeds 1998 AAS winner. The Fedco catalog offers a glowing description and recent history of this chard: “Bright Lights bathes stems, midribs and secondary veins in a panoply of gold, yellow, orange, pink, intermediate pastels and dazzling stripes. The AAS judges were impressed by the tenderness of its dark green to bronze leaves and the mildness of its chard flavor…Developed by John Eaton of Lower Hutt, New Zealand, who found the parent plants, a red one and a yellow one, in a small home garden in 1977 and crossed them to standard green and white varieties, selecting for color and flavor over the next fifteen years. Johnny’s worked the following years to preserve the strength and range of the individual colors.”
Years ago, I grew the more aptly named Rainbow chard from Thompson and Morgan but turned to Bright Lights when Johnny’s introduced it. Uprising Seeds in Bellingham offers Rainbow chard now so I may try it this year for a flavor and color comparison.
Bright Lights or Rainbow, this chard is as gorgeous in the kitchen as it is in the garden. I usually separate the stems from the leaves, chop them and steam them for a few minutes before slicing and adding the leaves. This method gives one more chance to admire the colorful stems and results in leaves and stems that are equally tender.
Chard has the same earthy flavor that kale has, but it is more melt-in-the-mouth tender. Eating it plain is such a treat that I often do no more than wilting it in the pan before serving it. Still, chard does blend well with other flavors. Garlic and olive oil, yellow raisins, toasted hazelnuts are all tasty additions. There’s also our longtime favorite pasta dish from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza and Calzone (1984): Chard, Goat Cheese and Buckwheat Pasta. The sharp flavor of goat cheese is a perfect contrast to chard’s sweetness and the buckwheat pasta matches chard’s earthy notes. We often make emmer flour pasta instead of buckwheat and use half as much cream and twice as much goat cheese. This recipe is definitely one that invites variations.
Chard, Goat Cheese and Buckwheat Pasta
2 cloves garlic
1 large bunch chard
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and Pepper
1 cup cream
2 ounces goat cheese
Buckwheat pappardelle (for 2-4)
Chop the garlic Stem the chard. Slice the stems and cut the leaves crosswise in ribbons. Wilt the stems and leaves in a covered skillet until barely tender. Remove and drain. Melt the butter in the skillet, add the garlic and the drained chard and stew gently for 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the cream. Crumble the goat cheese, add half of it to the cream and whisk until smooth. Add to the chard and simmer gently for a few minutes.
Cook the pasta and add to the chard along with the rest of the goat cheese. Mix well and serve garnished with black pepper.
The leaves I’m harvesting now are from chard I planted nearly a year ago. Like kale and other hardy greens, chard overwinters in our mild northwest climate and begins growing again in the spring, just in time to match the tulips but much more welcome because we can eat it.