Thanks to the mild winter, Robert and I have been eating so much greens that I keep checking my skin for a greenish tinge. It’s hard to keep up with the spring onrush of asparagus, artichokes, and Asian brassicas while we’re still eating overwintered arugula, collard buds, and Swiss chard.
The chard is especially overwhelming. Mostly self-sown, it grows in deep-green clumps all over the garden, reaching ever taller as it prepares to set seed. I’ve been cutting the stalks, squishing the snails, separating the best leaves, and cutting up and burying all the rest of the plants in hope of foiling leafminers, the larval stage of flies who lay their tiny white oblong eggs in neat rows on the underside of the leaves.
I’ve been packing the best-looking leaves into bags and taking them to the neighbors (two fully extended arms equals six feet of social distancing). But now I’ve run out of neighbors. So, when heavy rain and wind sent a few chard plants sprawling over the ground the other day, I decided it was time to do some preserving.
The thought of frozen chard reminds me of frozen spinach, which my mother used to buy in a paper box, thaw in a saucepan, and plop onto plates while my father sang that he was Popeye the Sailor Man and I turned white and covered my mouth. But frozen spinach is actually little different from cooked fresh spinach, and frozen chard is little different from frozen spinach. You can use frozen chard in puréed soups, chunky soups like minestrone, lasagna, tossed pasta, crêpes, quiche, saag paneer, and much else. And how handy, on busy days, to have cooked chard in a form that needs only thawing. No disposing of snails and slugs, no washing, no cutting out stems. Just thaw the stuff, and it’s ready to incorporate into dinner.
So yesterday I prepared and froze some chard. The process is simple:
- Immerse the chard, in batches, in a big kettle or bowl of water, and agitate the water enough to clean the leaves of snail dropping.
- Drain the leaves in a big colander.
- Cut the stems off small leaves, and cut the stems out of large leaves, with a knife or kitchen shears.*
- Cut the bigger leaves into pieces. You don’t need to chop the leaves; you would lose more nutrients that way, and leaving them in big pieces gives you more flexibility when you take the chard out of the freezer.
- Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and blanch the leaves in batches for 2 minutes, using a blanching basket.
- Lift the basket, drain off the hot water, and transfer the chard to a big kettle or bowl of cold water. Agitate the water a bit to cool the leaves.
- Drain the cooled chard in a colander.
- Stuff the chard into pint-sized freezer containers. I use freezer-weight plastic bags. Don’t squeeze out excess liquid; you can do that after thawing the chard, if you decide you want to.
- Label the containers, and put them in the freezer.
You’ll notice that both the blanching water and the cooling water look a little green afterward. Your chard has lost some nutrients, but you don’t have to throw them down the drain. Return the water to the garden instead.
*You can avoid this task of stem extraction by planting verde da taglio, an Italian chard variety with relatively flat, tender leaves and thin stems. With verde da taglio, you can simply cut off the stems rather than carving around them.
If your chard has thick stems, though, you can certainly use them. You might pickle them, for example, with vinegar or by brining. But I dislike them and so chop them up and compost them. I don’t worry about leafminers hatching in the compost, because the flies don’t lay eggs on the stems. (Snails and slugs don’t eat chard stems, either. I’m not the only one who dislikes those stems!)