Do you grow chard?
We do, lots of it. It is such a dependable vegetable, at least in our climate. The funny thing is, you never see it at grocery stores, only health food stores usually sell it. But it is so easy to grow organically here and it produces over such a long period of time that it is one of the first vegetables I advise beginning gardeners to try.
It is a close relative of spinach with a pretty similar but somewhat more robust taste. However, chard is both hardier and more bolt resistant than regular spinach. Last year a sowed chard in May and we harvested it right through summer, fall and winter. True, the past winter was pretty mild and even spinach survived. But while spinach is quickly running to seed at the moment, chard is still producing plenty of healthy leaves.
Chard in the front bed, spinach behind (next to broad beans)
For these cakes, I used a mix of chard and spinach, but you can use either on its own. Because spinach cooks down more than chard does, you’d have to use more of it though.
Ricotta and chard are a good combo and I’ve been making these turnovers with ricotta-chard filling for years. But these cakes are both easier to make (no filling and shaping pastries) and more sophisticated (saffron – obviously!). They are also very versatile – as Deborah Madison helpfully suggests, you can make them tiny and they are a perfect nibble to pass around or make them a bit bigger and they’ll make a great first course. I made them larger still and we ate them as a main course.The cakes are crisp on the outside but light and tender.
As a parent I cannot help to mention that children do tend to eat greens without fuss – when they are prepared like this!
Note to self: remember to grow saffron crocus next year – I only tried once, many years ago, and do not really remember whether it was worth the effort. Do you maybe have experience with growing it?
Chard, ricotta and saffron cakes
Adapted from Deborah Madison: Vegetable Literacy
Makes about 15 cakes, of 7,5 cm (3 inch) diameter
A bunch of chard, about 10 to 12 cups trimmed, or use a mix of chard and spinach
2 pinches saffron threads
75 g (½ cup) whole wheat flour
75 g (½ cup) all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
250 g (1 cup) ricotta cheese
50 g (about 1/3 cup or more) grated Parmesan cheese
180 ml (¾ cup) milk
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for frying
sour cream or thick yogurt to finish (optional)
slivered greens such as sorrel, beet greens or basil to finish, optional
Wash the chard and let it wilt in a large pot, covered and on a high heat. You want it to be tender but definitely not overcooked. Add a little water to the pan if necessary. When the chard is done, let it drain in a colander.
Put the saffron threads in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water.
In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt and baking powder. In another bowl stir together the ricotta with Parmesan, milk and eggs until well blended. Add the saffron and 3 tablespoons of oil and whisk to combine.
Squeeze as much water out of the chard/spinach as possible and chop it fairly finely. Stir the greens into the batter.
Heat a bit of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Drop heaped spoonfuls of the batter into the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden, then carefully turn, but do not flatten the cakes. They are quite thick and need a fair amount of time to cook through, so do not rush the process. Once the other side is also done, take the cakes out. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or thick yogurt. Finish with finely sliced sorrel leaves (that’s what I did) or slivered basil or beet thinnings.