Last week, we picked up several bunches of chard from the CSA. We happen to love chard; it’s so versatile. It works as a simple side, it can be added to casseroles or lasagnas, makes a nice filling for cannelloni or ravioli, and, one of our favorites, chard pie. This time, though, we wanted something different, but what?
Fortunately, the previous day, we’d picked up The Heart of the Plate, by Mollie Katzen, from the public library (we stop in about twice a week), and we figured she might have a good recipe for chard. Well, I’m sure her recipe is quite good, but we’ll fully admit we went off the rails with this one. Meaning that about the only things we kept were some of the cooking techniques. But that’s okay, that’s what scratching’s all about; plus, we get two recipes in one.
A final note: this makes a significant amount of polenta and we had leftovers, which we made into croquettes (place tablespoonfuls of polenta on a lined baking sheet, bake at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes or until crispy), but we adjusted the number of leaves in the recipe below, so you won’t have much leftover polenta, if any.
Makes about 20 polenta packets
Polenta is nothing more than corn meal. If you can’t find a coarse, stone-ground, corn meal, regular corn meal will work just fine, too, but might be a bit denser. For the cheese, it’s your choice, but remember that the shiitake mushrooms are strongly flavored, so a mild cheese will let that mushroom flavor shine. A strong cheese will compete for first place in the taste category. Keep that in mind. We used a Colby/Monterey Jack mix.
Procedure in detail:
Rehydrate shiitake. Place the dried mushrooms and 3 cups of water in a microwave-proof bowl, and heat in the microwave on high for about 5 minutes. The water should get very hot. Remove and let stand for about 30 minutes, then dice shiitake, discarding any tough stems. Place the mushroom pieces back in the water.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Make tomato sauce. Actually, this sauce will make itself. Well, mostly; you do need to help out just a bit, so oil an 9×13 inch pan. Add the tomatoes and oregano and crush with a large fork. That’s it; it’ll become sauce while baking. Set it aside for now, as this will be the base for the chard-wrapped polenta packets.
Cook onions. We’re now going to make the polenta, and, making it as described in the following steps is faster and easier than most. In fact, it’s the easiest method we’ve come across. Start by cooking the onions, salt, black and red pepper in oil over medium heat. Stir from time to time, but let everything cook until the onions are tender.
Add corn meal. Pour the polenta into the saucepan with the onions, stir and cook polenta until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.
Heat mushrooms and water. While the polenta is cooking, reheat the water with the mushroom pieces. We did this by microwaving on high for 5 minutes.
Add mushrooms and water. In two or three additions, add the hot water and the mushroom pieces to the polenta. Stir to ensure you have a smooth mixture, then cover and cook for a minute or two, before the next addition. After the last addition, cook until the polenta is thick, and remove from heat.
Add cheese. Toss the grated cheese on top of the hot polenta and stir until it’s melted and combined. Cover and set aside while you prepare the chard leaves.
Wilt chard. Bring about 2 quarts of water to a full boil over high heat. Working with one leaf at a time, dip the leaf into the boiling water. Hold there for 30 to 45 seconds, or until the main rib in the leaf is flexible. Don’t be concerned about the stem; we’ll cut that off. Once the leaf is cooked, remove and let drain. Continue until all leaves are soft.
Wrap. Spread a chard leaf on a clean work surface. Cut off the uncooked stem — we used scissors — and place one to two tablespoons of polenta in the middle of the leaf. More polenta for larger leaves, less polenta for smaller leaves. Wrap the chard leaf around the polenta as best you can. Place on top of tomato sauce, seam side down. Continue with remaining leaves.
Bake. Slide into a hot oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the sauce is quite bubbly.
We’re so glad we ran off the rails on this one. Not that the original recipe sounded bad; au contraire, it sounded like corn tamales with chili peppers, and we love, just love, tamales. But, we didn’t have the fresh chili pepper, so we improvised a mushroom version that turned out just delicious. These were so god, we wished we had a few more. The other nice thing was that, though this seems to be a complex and difficult dish, it’s really pretty easy: crush a few tomatoes, rehydrate mushrooms, make polenta, par-boil chard, wrap, and bake. Nothing tricky or difficult, and, from start until the dish was in the oven (minus the time for the mushrooms to rehydrate), probably took thirty minutes of prep work. Definitely a keeper, and a five-star keeper at that.