Swiss chard and I gush (only a little) about Nigel Slater


There are those among us who definitely enjoy a leafy green or two. Thrown in careless handfuls to jostle amongst hot slices of veg in a stir-fry or gently folded into a tender salmon quiche, greens are good.  What really gets supper going for me though are the colours. I'm usually starving by the time it comes to plate up so composition or pedantic arrangements are out, but however hunger crazed I might be, I do still always appreciate the sight of something green. Even a token amount adds colour to a dish and it softens the blow of whatever more calorific matter I've piled along side it.

Fickle friends, be sure to water lettuces in dry weather or they'll do this... 
Now, for grow-your-own-ers there are endless lettuces to choose from, and they are good. Freckled or frilled, their textures (and slug-hiding capacity) vary hugely and you can choose green or red varieties. Lovely spicy asian leaf mixes abound with a range of leaf shapes, hues of green or red or purple and soft or crunchy fronds, stems and leaves to munch. However, while I dearly love all these things if I had to choose based on visual appeal, ease of cultivation and length of growing season it'd have to be        swiss     chard.

Oo la la
 Bright colours, minimal maintenance and it doesn't even flinch when it's a little frosty out. Okay, I say that and now someones been jinxed but still.  In my experience they've been much less prone to setting seed as the lettuces and other leafies when things get a little arid and they do tick over with minimal die-back in the early frosts. Some protection in the form of a blanket or sheeting will keep the crowns snug and the plants will survive in places no lettuce would. Come warmer weather they'll ease back into production, buying you time to get a fresh crop sown. With seed mixes such as 'Bright lights' and 'Rainbow' easily available  here or here (lots of other places too) they're well worth trying. Nows a good time to sow, you can use modules or pots but planting directly avoids the sulk they'll throw when time comes to transplant them and their roots get jostled.

Already growing  the stuff and don't know what to do? Unfamiliar and under appreciated swiss chard may be but recipes are plentiful. Nigel Slater (heart) does excellent things with this vegetable and if you don't have Tender I , run, run now and get it (Tender II is also lovely, lovely, lovely and all about fruit). This has been my go-to book for the past year as it so usefully addresses all sorts of veg - an excellent ally to have close at hand when you uncover a hoard of hibernating leeks at the bottom of the fridge or have a cabbage you don't know what to do with.

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