A Forgotten Vegetable
For many years Chard was a popular and cheap vegetable. It has many names, including Bietola (Italy), Blette, Bléa (France), Acelga (Spain), Krautstiel, Stielmangold, Mangold (Germany, Switzerland), Snijbiet (the Netherlands) and also Swiss Chard, Leaf Beet, Silver Beet, Spinach Beet and Seakale Beet.
Many names equals many recipes and easy to buy? Not at all. Nowadays it’s hard to find chard and the number of recipes is limited. According to Dutch Food Critic and Culinary Legend Johannes van Dam the chard leaves wither quickly, making it a difficult product for supermarkets. The image of chard is not positive: ‘Poor Man’s Asparagus’ for the stems for instance. Another reason is probably the fact that the leaves require a different preparation than the stems.
Johannes van Dam gives a number of recipes, including what he refers to as the primal recipe from Italy for Tourte de Blette and the recipe for Bledes amb panses I pinyons from Menorca.
Tourte de Blette
When in Nice we very much enjoyed our Tourte de Blette, locally known as Tourta de Bléa. It comes in two varieties: sweet and savoury. If you want to prepare the sweet one, please visit the inspiring Variations Gourmandes.
The crust of the Tourte de Blette is not straightforward. In most cases it’s a combination of flour, water, butter (or olive oil) and eggs. We were inspired by a dear friend who bases her Tourte on the Italian Torta Verde del Ponente Ligure. This is a very similar dish with zucchini, chard, basil, sage, rise, onion, Grana Padano or Parmesan and eggs. The dough of the Torta Verde is easy to work with and the result is both tasty and crunchy.
Back to the main ingredient of the Tourte de Blette: the chard. We found it on the Amsterdam Albert Cuyp market but were shocked by the price, so we had to look for an alternative. We decided not to use normal spinach because it doesn’t have the right structure. We choose water spinach (also know as Kang Koen or Ong Choy): a very popular vegetable in Asia. The leaves have lots of structure and the (hollow) stems are tasty and crunchy.
Obviously a wine from the region, for instance a Côtes de Provence (preferably rosé) or a more expensive Bellet Blanc.
What You Need
- For the Dough
- For the Mixture
- 500 gram of Water Spinach
- 75 gram Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
What You Do
Cook the rice and leave to rest. Combine flour, salt, water and olive oil. Make the dough, kneed for a minute or so and store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the leaves from the stem and chop half of the stems. Best is to have the stem slices the size of cooked rice. Same for the shallot. Warm a large heavy skillet, gently fry the shallot. After 10 minutes add the chopped stems. Leave for 5 minutes and then add the leaves. Cook for a few minutes until done. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
Slice the leaves using a kitchen knife. Whisk the two eggs. Combine the vegetables, the egg, the rice and the freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Generously add freshly grated nutmeg.
Cut the dough in two, one part slightly bigger than the other. The bigger part will be the bottom, the smaller part the top. Roll out the bigger one with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Coat a 22 cm or 9 inch round baking form with oil (or use a sheet of baking paper). Place the first disk in the baking form, add filling and close with the second disk of dough. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Make holes in the top, allowing for the steam to escape. Transfer to the oven for 40 – 50 minutes on 180˚ – 200˚ Celsius or 355˚ – 390˚ Fahrenheit. Immediately after having removed the tourte from the oven, brush the top with olive oil. This will intensify the colour of the crust. Let cool and enjoy luke warm.