Ciao'd after packing for a trip back East to visit la famiglia. Cue the mortadella. 



Today I picked our first "crop" of Swiss chard. The leaves were not only tender they were a lovely, almost translucent green, too. I prefer chard with white stalks and these did not disappoint. They were crunchy and juicy, a harmonious textural counterpoint to the gentle leaves. Marcella Hazan joins me in the Swiss chard love fest. She, like me, celebrates that chard leaves, simply cooked, make a lovely side dish. Marcella calls the dish a salad (not sure why but, okay). Here's her super-duper simple recipe that tastes super, too. Cuz yeah, Marcella.

Serves 4 to 6

2 bunches young Swiss chard or the leaves of 3 large bunches of mature Swiss chard
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 or more tablespoons fresh lemon juice

If you are using young chard, detach the stems. If you are using mature chard, pull the leaves from the stalks, discarding any wilted or discolored leaves. Wash well and drain. 

Put the chard in a pan with whatever water clings to the leaves. Add 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 15 to 18 minutes from the time the liquid starts to bubble. 

Drain in a colander and gently press some of the water out the chard with the back of a fork. Place in a salad bowl. 

Serve cool (not refrigerated) or lukewarm, seasoning with salt, oil, and lemon just before ready to serve.  Recipe gently adapted from Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook, Ballantine Books, 1973


Ciao'd after a March Madness weekend. And I do mean mad.

Continuing the asparagus theme from last week (spring is to asparagus what summer is to zucchini), here's a recipe that pairs the subtle flavor of white Swiss chard stems with the more pronounced one of asparagus. It's a brilliant marriage and, of course, Marcella Hazan offered the recipe to us. The vegetables are topped with Parmesan cheese and butter. As Marcella says, "It's a rare vegetable that cannot profit from this classic technique." She is so, so right. 

Serves 4

2 pounds Swiss chard
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 pound asparagus
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim the Swiss chard stalks of all leaves. Reserve the leaves for another use. Cut off any discolored portion of the bottom of the stalks but shorten them no further. Wash the stalks in cold water.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with one tablespoon of the salt. Add the stalks and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a plate and pat dry. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Trim the ends of the asparagus, leaving only the moist tender parts of the stalk, about 1 inch or so. Peel the tough green skin from the base of the spear to the end of the stalk. Bring the chard water to a boil once again, add the remaining tablespoon of salt and asparagus spears. Cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a plate and pat dry. 

Grease a shallow, medium-sized baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Line the bottom with a layer of chard stalks, and then top with a layer of asparagus. Repeat until you have used up all the vegetables. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top, distributing it evenly. Dot with the remaining butter. Place the dish on the top rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Recipe by Marcella Hazan, Marcella's Italian Kitchen, Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.


Ciao'd with handfuls of white cheddar popcorn.

Friday is my day to write an essay for the blog but for the last few Fridays, I have found myself at a loss for words. Perhaps it's all the noise reverberating out there and around us. How can I get a word in edgewise? Perhaps it's the time of year, a new season and therefore, a reset for my thoughts. The winter birds are flying away and the spring birds, golden finches among them, are alighting on our feeders. I like to think that the cold weather birds have pecked my negative thoughts to carry with them as they head to points north. As for the spring birds, I hope they bring sunny optimism.

My kitchen has been a respite of late, more than usual. I am a slave to television news and talk radio. Neither is serving me well these days. I need the simple tasks of the kitchen. Chopping and dicing onions and carrots. Stirring and mixing breadcrumbs, basil, and parsley. Washing dishes and wiping counters. These actions draw a baseline of calm. 

When I cook, my brain (and ire) rests and my senses sing. The aroma of fresh garlic and basil. The song of sauteeing onions. The loveliness of glowing lemons in a white bowl. The push of the knead and the pull of shaping pizza dough. The taste, oh, the taste of so many miraculous things! Fresh-picked lettuce, grassy, green artichokes, the first asparagus. And sweet, red, ripe strawberries! 

The earth gives in equal measure. It does not judge if we're flying on the right or on the left. It does not care if we're the 1% or the 99%. It bestows its bounty on any level of cook and invites, "Do what you will with me." And anything we do is just fine.

This week, I planted my garden with warm weather deliciousness, including Swiss chard. This recipe is a harbinger of what's to come. I think you'll enjoy its simple preparation and fresh, uncomplicated flavor. 



Succulent chicken thighs (yes, you can use chicken breasts, if you wish), Swiss chard, and tubetti pasta cook together in one pan (easy cleanup!) for a light and bright springtime meal. If you can't find tubetti (I use De Cecco), substitute orzo or Israeli couscous.

Serves 4

2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves (or 3 small cloves), finely chopped
1 cup tubetti pasta or other small pasta such as orzo
1 bunch Swiss chard, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine basil and thyme in a small bowl, crumbling between your fingers to release the flavor. Add the salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with half the spice mixture.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Stir in the garlic and pasta and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the Swiss chard, lemon zest, and remaining spice mixture; cook, stirring, until the chard just begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juice from the plate. Pour in the broth and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the pasta is al dente (firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve, passing Parmesan at the table.