Vegetable Challenge: (What the h is) chard?
The problem with trying to eat more vegetables is that vegetables are pretty gross. Once I went public with my non-vegetable ways, I received lots and lots of recipes suggesting I drown the veggies in cheese or butter and voila! now I’d have eaten some veggies. But kids, you know that that doesn’t count. If I’m going to drench something in butter I’d rather make some cookies. There have to be recipes for cooking with vegetables that keep their nutritional benefits without making me feel like I’m punishing myself for something.
But after much searching and too many soups, I think I may have found one. I was poking around on Eating Well’s website and stumbled across this recipe for skillet gnocchi with chard and white beans. Gnocchi was invented because god loves us and wants us to be happy. It’s pasta made from potatoes. I’ve been trying to eat more non-dairy protein, so the white beans were an added bonus. The rest was negligible. Nothing could ruin gnocchi.
The next step was to figure out what the hell chard was. To me it sounded like something tasteless that you chew like gum. From the picture on the recipe, I guessed that it was some sort of leafy vegetable. At the grocery store, I stood in the produce section and stared at all the leafy bundles. I tried to read all the names of what was what without touching every single bunch, but it was impossible. I picked each one up and peered at its name, trying to find the mysterious chard and trying not to think about how many other people had probably touched it before me.
There it was! Red chard, looking rather like spinach but with longer stalks and a radish hue. The recipe said I needed a “small bunch,” but all the bunches looked insanely large. If I ever write my own recipe, I’m going to be more specific. “A bunch the size of a purse-sized Chihuahua.” “ A bunch the length of your arm.” I picked the smallest I could find and got two steps away before I started doubting my purchase. The recipe had said nothing about red chard. As noted, I am nothing if not specific. I went back and located regular swiss chard.
Next was the gnocchi. The recipe called for “shelf-stable gnocchi,” which, according to the helpful tip, I could find in the pasta section of my grocery store. I walked up and down the pasta aisle, but there was no gnocchi to be found. I went more slowly to make sure that I wasn’t being an idiot. It didn’t help that I didn’t quite know what kind of package I was looking for. The same Shaw’s employee came back a second time to ask me if I needed help. I did, but I’m bad at asking for it. So I fled to the refrigerated section, where I knew the tortellini lived. I found a package of gnocchi, and stood for ten minutes, reading the label and contemplating. I didn’t think this was the shelf-safe gnocchi, even though it was, misleadingly, on the shelf. Did it matter? I think the point was that, in my recipe, the gnocchi was to be cooked in a pan, while the refrigerated gnocchi wanted me to boil it. Instead of making a decision like a grownup, I harrumphed my way out of the store. I’d have to go to Trader Joe’s.
I generally avoid specialty grocery stores, mainly because I don’t think I have the right piercing/tattoo/shoe combination to fit in, but also because I know I’ll be tempted to buy things I can’t afford. But I already had the chard and I’m unable to quit things once I’ve started them, so I put on my best hipster face and made my way over there.
As usual, I shouldn’t have worried. There it was, a shrink-wrapped package, labeled “Shelf-Safe Gnocchi,” a beacon of hope for all confused cooks. And it was only $1.50. I bought the multigrain kind, smiling at all the hipsters like I was one of them, and almost skipped home.
I chopped up what I guessed was a “small bunch” of the chard, remembering how spinach likes to shrink up in the face of heat and assuming that chard would do the same. I thought the better of this plan right away, since I didn’t want to end up with Chard and a Little Gnocchi. I divided the huge pile in half and planned to add half and gauge from there. After all, I really didn’t want to be too healthy. I heated up some olive oil in my nonstick skillet, and put the gnocchi in. They immediately began to stick. I took the spatula and angrily scraped the pasta bits from the pan. It was too soon to be failing already.
I poured the gnocchi into a separate bowl to wait while I prepared the rest of the dish, and tried one. Despite their slightly smoked flavor, the gnocchi were effing delicious. Because they’d stuck to the pan, they’d gotten slightly crispy. I considered quitting and just snacking on the gnocchi like potato chips. But I’m no quitter.
I added the garlic, water, the can of tomatoes, the can of beans, and the chard, and things started to go right.
The chard shrunk down just like I thought and I added the rest, then added the gnocchi. Cooking garlic always makes me feel professional as hell because the kitchen smelled amazing. I expected strangers on the street to come in and high five me at any moment. Lastly, I added the cheese and let it melt for a few minutes.
There’s going to be no more craving the cheap, delicious Olive Garden Italian when I can make this for myself. It tasted like I was eating something very, very bad for me, but there’s not nearly enough cheese to feel guilty. It’s very filling, and I’m happy to report that the chard tastes like nothing. The fact that I didn’t wash it very well added a little crunch of dirt that I’m sure just adds fiber. This is a new favorite—a way to feel a little bad while being a very good girl.