What do you do with big Swiss chard leaves when you have a couple of rows of plants in your vegetable garden? One thing you can do is roll the leaves around a ball of meat stuffing and then poach or other wise cook the rolled, stuffed chard. In French, that's feuilles de blettes farcies.
It's what we made yesterday. Earlier, I had made up a batch of ground meat stuffing, which is good for meatballs or for this use. It's a mixture of veal, beef, and pork, with chopped onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and herbs added. I used egg whites as a binder, because I had some in the freezer left over from recipes that called for yolks only. You could use a whole egg or two.
The chard leaves need to be blanched so that they will be pliable enough to roll up. It dawned on me that the word "pliable" in English is based on the French verb plier (to fold). Pliable means "foldable" on some level. I blanched the leaves by steaming them in a steamer basket in a big pot.
I decided to use two leaves per stuffed roll, partly because we have so many of them and partly to make the rolls a little sturdier. Walt went out and picked 12 huge leaves and I defrosted 6 of the meatballs I had made the other day.
It was easy to steam the leaves two, three, or even four at a time, after cutting off their long white stems. It only takes a couple of minutes for the steamed leaves to be limp enough to work with. Take them out of the steamer by grabbing the stem end with tongs and laying them out on a flat surface to cool slightly. You have to be careful because they will tear very easily.
Don't throw the chard stems out, by the way — they are also good cooked in butter and garlic, for example, or baked into a gratin-type casserole.
For the stuffed leaves, lay one blanched leaf out on top of another on the work surface. Trim out the thick bottom part of the rib if it is too stiff to fold up easily. Put a meatball on one end of the leaves and roll it up into a nice package. We decided we didn't need to tie the stuffed leaves up with string, and they held together fine.
When you have made your cabbage rolls, poach them. You can use the liquid from the steamer, some chicken or vegetable broth, a combination, or just water as the poaching liquid. Put the rolls in to poach at barely a simmer and let them cook for 30 minutes or even longer to make sure the stuffing is thoroughly done.
When the rolls are cooked, make a cream sauce, which is a béchamel sauce with cream added. Start by melting two or three tablespoons of butter in a pan. When it's good and hot, put in the same amount of flour, stir it well, and let it bubble for a couple of minutes. Start adding liquid slowly so that the sauce has time to thicken and any lumps melt away while the sauce is still very thick. Thin it down gradually by adding liquid until you reach the consistency you want. Use some of the poaching liquid and some milk to make the sauce. At the end, add half a cup or more of cream to enrich it. Season it well.
Yesterday, I added about three tablespoons of spicy Dijon mustard to my cream sauce. The reason is that Sylvie, the bread lady, told me that she cooks chard in a béchamel sauce with mustard added and likes that flavor combination. She's right — the mustard sauce is really good with cooked chard leaves — and with the meat stuffing.
Put the chard rolls into the mustard sauce and let it all stay warm while you make some boiled potatoes, rice, or pasta to go with it. We cooked wheat berries, which are commonly available here. Steamed potatoes or pasta would also be really good with the mustardy cream sauce.
If this seems more like a wintertime dish than a summery meal, well, that was appropriate here yesterday. It's not cold like in winter, but the weather changed entirely yesterday morning. It rained and felt almost chilly. Our hot spell is over and temperatures are 15 degrees cooler now. It's only about 59ºF outside this morning — it feels like autumn.