Chard, also known as spinach beet or perpetual spinach*, is a type of leaf beet, mainly available in summer and autumn in the UK. It’s a green leafy vegetable looking a bit like a more robust version of spinach, but whereas spinach tends to run to seed in hot weather, chard will happily carry on growing until the first frosts.
The young leaves can be eaten raw in a salad like lettuce, larger leaves are cooked like spinach. I generally regard chard as more or less interchangeable with spinach, and use whichever happens to be growing in the garden at the time. So you could also make this recipe with spinach instead of chard, or with a mixture of the two, according to preference and availability. Being July, it’s chard season at the moment, so here it is made with chard.
Chard and cream cheese lasagne
10-12 oz (approx 300-350 g) chard leaves
Half an onion
1 large clove garlic
4 oz (approx 100 g) cream cheese or ricotta cheese
0.5 teaspoon (0.5 x 5 ml spoon) grated nutmeg
0.5 oz (approx 10 g) butter
2 teaspoons (2 x 5 ml spoon) plain flour
Approx 0.25 pint (approx 150 ml) milk
2 oz (approx 50 g) cheddar-type cheese, sliced
Approx 4 oz (approx 100 g) dried lasagne sheets**
Wash the chard leaves thoroughly. Cut out the thick central stalk from each leaf. Put about a teaspoon of butter in the bottom of a large saucepan, and put the chard leaves on top. Don’t add any extra water, the drops of water clinging to the leaves after washing will be enough to steam the leaves. Put a lid on the saucepan and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring several times during cooking to make sure the leaves at the top get swapped for the ones at the bottom of the pan. The chard will wilt and soften, and will cook down to a fraction of its original volume. When it’s a soft dark green mass, it’s cooked. Remove from the heat and drain, pressing the cooked leaves with a wooden spoon or spatula to squeeze out excess moisture. Leave to cool.
Peel and chop the onion. Chop the chard stalks. Peel and crush the garlic. Fry onion, chard stalks and garlic in about a tablespoon of cooking oil over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until the onion is soft and starting to colour. Remove from heat.
Chop the cooked chard leaves, and stir into the onion mixture. Stir in the cream cheese and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.
Now make a white sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour.
Blend in the milk a little at a time, stirring thoroughly between each addition to remove any lumps (remember to scrape any lumps off the back of the spoon). Bring to the boil, stirring all the time until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.
Grease an ovenproof dish about 7” (about 18 cm) square. Spread one-third of the spinach and cream cheese mixture in the bottom of the dish. Top with a layer of lasagne sheets. Spread another one-third of the spinach and cream cheese mixture on top, and cover with another layer of lasagne sheets. Spread the last one-third of the spinach mixture on top, and pour the white sauce over. Top with the sliced cheddar-type cheese. (You may find you end up with three or four layers of lasagne rather than two, depending on the size and shape of your dish and the size and shape of your lasagne sheets. Adjust as necessary, just make sure that the lasagne and the sauce layers alternate with each other and that you start and end with a layer of sauce).
Cook in a moderate oven, approx 180 C, for approx 35 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.
Serve with salad or a green vegetable.
**You could use fresh pasta, but the weight will be different from dried pasta.
*Sharp-eyed readers of Paths of Exile may have noticed a mention of growing spinach in a vegetable plot. I imagine it as a spinach beet of some kind, as leaf beets have been grown in Europe for centuries. Chard is probably the nearest modern approximation.