Chard a challenge? Chop it down to size



Admit it, chard is kind of scary.

With the vegetable's strong stems poking holes in your plastic grocery bag and leaves the size of a kitchen cutting board, the whole idea of wrestling the neon-veined chard into shape for a quick dinner seems impossible.

But it can be done; simply separate the leaves from the stems (save stems for a future weekend use) and roughly chop the leaves into ribbons.

Cook, covered, for five minutes in garlic-scented olive oil and the chard is ready.

Sauteed chopped chard provides the muscle for this vegetarian one-dish pasta meal. Its dark-green color and robust yet mannered flavor provides a foil to mild-flavored spaghetti.

Serve with an affordable Italian red, perhaps a Chianti or primitivo.

Spaghetti With Chard, Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

Serves 4 -- Total time: 35 minutes

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 large bunch chard, stems removed, rinsed, chopped, about 6 cups

1 package (8 ounces) sliced white mushrooms

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (see note)

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook garlic until golden, about 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add chard; toss to coat with oil. Cover, simmer until the leaves wilt, 5 minutes. Uncover; raise heat. Cook until any water evaporates. Remove chard from pan; set aside.

Pour remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil in pan; heat. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring often, until browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Return chard to skillet; add pine nuts.

Turn heat to low; cook to let flavors mingle, about 1 minute. Put pasta in a serving bowl; top with chard mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

Note: Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 5 minutes.

Per serving: 641 calories, 16 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 92 grams carbohydrate, 32 grams protein, 258 milligrams sodium, 8 grams fiber

Bill Daley writes for the Chicago Tribune, which provided the recipe and analysis.

Menu suggestion

Spaghetti With Chard, Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

Italian bread

Tossed salad

Vanilla ice cream topped with amaretto

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