Seasonal local food recipe No 159: Hugh’s chardy cheese

One vegetable that thrives during a wet English summer is Swiss chard. Camel CSA has a huge bed of it in rainbow colours and the picking usually involves us in a big team effort.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says: “This hearty dish gives chard the cauliflower cheese treatment. It makes a side dish to chops or sausages, but I’d happily eat it as a main course with a hunk of bread.”

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

About 750g chard
Small knob of butter
About 50g breadcrumbs
A little rapeseed or olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
300ml whole milk
½ onion, peeled and cut in two
1 bay leaf
A few black peppercorns
20g unsalted butter
20g plain flour
75g strong, mature cheddar, grated
25g parmesan or vegetarian alternative
(or mature hard goat’s cheese, grated)
¼ tsp English mustard

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5 and lightly grease a shallow, ovenproof dish.

For the sauce, put the milk into a saucepan with the onion, bay and peppercorns. Bring to just below simmering point, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes, and an hour or two, ideally.

Meanwhile, separate the chard leaves from the stalks, and cut the stalks into 1.5cm slices. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, drop in the leaves and blanch for a minute or two, until just wilted. Remove the leaves with tongs, drain and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water with your hands, then roughly chop. Meanwhile, drop the chopped stalks into the boiling water and blanch for three to four minutes, until just tender. Drain, toss with a knob of butter, season and spread over the base of the oven dish.

If the infused milk has cooled completely, warm it gently, then strain into a jug. Melt the butter for the sauce in a medium saucepan over a fairly low heat, then stir in the flour to form a smooth paste (a roux). Cook gently, stirring frequently, for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add a third of the milk. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or whisk until you have a thick, smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk in one or two lots, stirring it in until smooth.

Return the sauce to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Let it bubble for two minutes, stirring every now and then, to “cook out” any taste of raw flour, then turn the heat right down. Add the cheeses and mustard, stir gently until they melt into the sauce – don’t let the sauce boil, or it may curdle – and season.

Stir the chopped chard leaves into the hot cheese sauce and pour over the stalks in the dish. Scatter with the breadcrumbs and a trickle of oil, and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

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