I first ate this many years ago in a slightly eccentric but very good Burgundian restaurant in Paris. It had heavy lace curtains (the restaurant, not the gratin) so you couldn’t see in from outside and was full of slightly rotund businessmen.
In spite of the discreet drapery they weren’t wining and dining their mistresses (sorry, stereotyping) but feeding the inner man with robust and generous portions of dishes like Boeuf Bourguignan. The chard gratin was served, rather oddly, as a starter. I prefer it as part of a main course.
If you have a veg garden, chard grows like a weed and sticks around when other more summery vegetables have turned up their toes. If you don’t, it’s an inexpensive item to buy, which is just as well because you need a tidy armful for this recipe. It doesn’t matter whether you use white, ruby or my favourite, the eye-poppingly neon-hued rainbow chard.
The juicy stems have a slightly earthy flavour, while the crinkly leaves taste somewhere between spinach and kale. The two cook at different speeds so it’s best to do them separately. These quantities should be enough for one large gratin or two smaller ones (it freezes well, uncooked).
About 750g chard
1 quantity of cheese sauce
1 heaped tbsp grated cheese
A small knob of butter
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Wash the chard thoroughly and shake dry. Remove the stems and cut them into short lengths. Steam them until just tender – mine took about seven minutes. Drain very thoroughly and place in the bottom of a gratin dish. (If you mix ruby or rainbow chard stems into the sauce, it’ll turn a rather lurid pink.)
Remove the tough central veins of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves into ribbons and cook in salted water for about 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain and when cool enough, squeeze out every possible drop of water. Blot on kitchen paper.
Make a thick cheese sauce, adding (optionally) a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Stir the chard leaves into the sauce, check the seasoning, then pour over the stems.
Top with breadcrumbs and grate over a little more cheese. Dot with butter and cook in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes or until browned and bubbling.