Recipe: Swiss Chard with Yellow Raisins, Lemon Zest, and Pine Nuts
You may have noticed that I’ve lately had a renewed interest in Sicilian flavors. Not that culinary Sicily is ever far from my mind. I routinely let my head travel through the south, working back and forth between Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily. I refresh myself periodically just to make sure some tastes have not gone dormant or to unearth something previously unknown to me.
I’m now rereading Pomp and Sustenance, Mary Taylor Simeti’s excellent book on the history of Sicilian cooking. It has got me reexploring the island’s traditional raisin-and-pine-nut combination and thinking about new ways I can use it, or ways I haven’t thought of in a while. My last post was for a pasta dish with swordfish, raisins, and pine nuts, but now I’m thinking green.
In fact I am antsy for spring greens—watercress, baby leeks, dandelions, even those terrible fiddlehead ferns that are always the first thing to show up at New York Greenmarkets, usually in late April. Since there’s nothing local around yet, I trotted over to my supermarket and just picked the nicest looking leafy green vegetable I could find, to give it a Sicilian treatment. I chose Swiss chard, since it was big and ruffly and looked healthy. In addition to the raisin and pine nut duo, I also included a splash of dry Marsala (the fortified wine from Trapani, which I find better to cook with than to drink) and some lemon zest, and I finished it off with a sprinkling of grana Padano, which added a bit of salty sweetness to balance out the astringency of the lemon and the somewhat irony taste of the chard. I served this as a side with roasted rosemary chicken, but you can thin the finished dish with a little pasta cooking water to make a great condimento for any kind of substantial chewy pasta such as penne or cavatelli.
Swiss Chard with Yellow Raisins, Lemon Zest, and Pine Nuts
(Serves 4 or 5 as a side dish)
⅓ cup yellow raisins
2 tablespoons dry Marsala
2 large bunches Swiss chard, the thick center stalks removed (you can leave some of the more tender stalks) and the leaves roughly chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
⅓ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Freshly ground black pepper
The grated zest from 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon grated grana Padano cheese
Place the raisins in a small cup. Pour on the Marsala, and give them a toss.
Set up a big pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the chard, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain the chard into a colander, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to bring up its green color. Now squeeze as much excess water as you can from the chard.
Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet, and get it hot over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté just until it gives off a gentle aroma, about 30 seconds. Add the chard, seasoning it with the nutmeg, and sauté quickly, stirring it around a bit. Add the raisins with their Marsala soaking liquid. Take the skillet from the heat, and add salt, the pine nuts, black pepper, and the lemon zest. Transfer to a large serving dish, and sprinkle on the grana Padano, giving the chard a good toss. Serve hot or warm.