- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

My mother was not a passionate cook, but she prepared two popular Southern vegetables well. She piled bunches of collard or turnip greens in a pot, covered them with water, then added bits of bacon or ham.

The greens would be left to simmer gently for several hours until they were fork tender and infused with the smoky goodness of the pork. These simply prepared accompaniments would be served with smothered steaks, fried chicken, baked ham or another of her family standbys.

Because of this, I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of leafy greens. I rarely cook turnips or collards the long, slow way my mother did, but I revel in quickly sauteing them with bacon, pancetta or prosciutto. These combos make tempting side dishes for entertaining.

Swiss chard is a delicious green I discovered long after I left the South. Although popular in Mediterranean countries — France and Italy in particular — chard was not always as widely available in the United States as it is now.

A member of the beet family, chard, or Swiss chard as it is also called, has broad crinkled dark green leaves and celerylike stalks. The stalks and ribs on the leaves can be either red or light green, the red-hued ones being slightly more robust in taste.



There’s also a ruby chard, with red stalks and dark red leaves with green veining. Chard, which is extremely high in nutritional value, is sold year-round, but it is at its peak in the summer. It has such a hearty taste, however, that I like to serve it with winter meals.

At a recent dinner for friends, I sauteed it with bacon, red onions and walnuts and served it as a garnish to roasted chicken and potatoes. The whole menu, especially the rich and satisfying greens, seemed to counter the single-digit temperature outside.

Sauteed Swiss chard with bacon and walnuts

18 ounces Swiss chard, preferably with green leaves and red stalks

1/4 cup olive oil

6 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 6 ounces)

1 medium red onion, chopped

2/3 cup walnut halves, toasted

Salt

Rinse chard and pat dry. Separate leaves from stalks by cutting off the stalks. If ribs on leaves are more than ½-inch thick, cut them away from the leaves. Cut stalks and ribs, if using, into 1-inch long pieces. Cut leaves crosswise into ½-inch wide strips.

Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat.

When hot, add bacon and saute, stirring, until bacon is browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Leave oil and drippings in the skillet.

Add onion and chard stems (and ribs, if using) to skillet and stir and cook until both are softened, 2 to 3 minutes or longer.

Add chard leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted and tender, 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in bacon and walnuts. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

Makes 4 servings.

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