I’ve been making a Ligurian-style Swiss chard torta for probably around fifteen years. Everyone loves it. I’ve brought it to so many dinner parties, I’ve now got tart pans all around the city, most never to be seen again. I guess it’s become one of my signature dishes. The filling is mostly the chard, but it can also contain pine nuts, raisins, dates, almonds, marjoram, Parmigiano, garlic, sometimes thyme or basil, and occasionally a few anchovies, all, of course, at the whim of the cook. I usually throw them all in. I find that more is strangely more in this preparation. It’s sort of the pasta con sarde of tortas, with seemingly colliding flavors creating a beautiful whole. I bake it in a flaky olive oil and white wine crust, which is incredibly easy to put together. An exotic treat for the vegetarians in my life.
In fact, the filling for this torta is so good I kept thinking about it recently while trying to come up with a diet-friendly main course to use up way too much Swiss chard I had bought. I deconstructed the torta. I got rid of the crust and used a modified version of my filling—no eggs, no sweet aspects, very light on the cheese—as a bed for seared sea scallops, finishing it off with a lemony marjoram vinaigrette. Seasonal ingredients, thought through but simply put together.
One of my current diet goals is to present you with main courses that have so much flavor you don’t miss the usually unavoidable but gratuitous side of starch. This one really worked out well. I hope you enjoy it.
(Serves 2 as a main course)
For the lemon marjoram oil:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small summer garlic clove, minced
6 large marjoram sprigs, leaves chopped
The grated zest from 1 large lemon, plus about a tablespoon or so of its juice
For the rest:
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
2 summer garlic cloves, sliced
1 very large or 2 smaller bunches Swiss chard, the thick white ribs removed, leaves chopped
A few large thyme sprigs, leaves chopped
A few large marjoram sprigs, leaves chopped
The zest from 1 lemon
A small chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
6 really large sea scallops, or 10 smaller ones
A big pinch of sugar
In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the lemon marjoram oil together. Let sit while you proceed with the recipe (allowing the flavors to blend).
Heat about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Add the shallot, and let it soften for a minute. Add the garlic, and sauté for a few seconds, just until it gives off an aroma. Add the chard, and sauté, stirring it around a few times, until it wilts down by about half. Season with salt, black pepper, and the thyme, marjoram, and lemon zest. If it has given off liquid, drain most of that off.
Season the scallops with the sugar, salt, and black pepper.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over high flame. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and the butter. When they’re hot, add the scallops, and let them brown without moving them around. When they get crispy at the edges, turn the heat down a little, and let them continue to cook. Don’t flip them. When the top of the scallops feel warm, they’re done.
Add a few big gratings of Parmigiano to the chard, and give it a stir. Divide it up onto two plates. Place the scallops, browned side up, around the chard. Drizzle the scallops with the lemon marjoram oil, and grate on a little parmigiano. That’s it.