Playing with Food: Sardine and Swiss Chard Gratin (or Why My Cat Licked My Shoe)


Ladybugs on my chard should have been a clue that there were other beasties about.

It all started with an abundance of organic Swiss chard in my community garden. When I spotted aphids on one plant, I knew that it would be a fight to save the crop if they took hold. Instead of whipping out my bottle of insecticidal soap, which would have been fruitless with the rain that was already starting, I opted for a mega harvest. The aphid-infected chard plant was sent to the heap, and I drastically cut back the other five plants. To prep the chard and remove the creepy crawlies, I gave it a good rinse with the hose and then soaked all of the chard in my 3-gallon bucket. Then, I rinsed batches in my salad spinner. Squeaky clean. 

As I cruised through Pinterest looking for new chard recipes, I came across this recipe from Saveur Magazine.  This recipe first appeared in Saveur Magazine April 2014 issue with Mary Sue Milliken’s story Forgotten Fish. My fella is a big sardine fan and always has a few cans on hand. I had my first sardine a few months ago, and I was quite surprised at how much I like them. So I was super-excited to be able to use my chard with this tasty and very healthy fish. I altered the measurements because the original serves 6-8. And a couple of ingredients are slightly different to fit what we had on hand. But in the end, this recipe was surprisingly easy despite a couple of mistakes (see What Happened in Real Life).  

We made this for lunch with another new recipe of a rice pilaf and iced tea/sparkling water, but the leftovers paired very well with Steltzner Estate 2009 Merlot.  After it was decanted, it softened up and brought out the depth of the sardines.  White options could include a Viognier which will bring out the nuttiness of the cheese.  I think I would opt for a leafy green salad and steamed veggies as an accompaniment.

Sardine and Swiss Chard Gratin

Serves 3-4

1+ lb Swiss chard, very fresh, cut into 1” pieces (precooked, it’s about 3 cups including ribs)

salt and pepper

4 Tablespoons of butter (divided)

2 Tablespoons of olive oil

5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 large shallot, thinly slices

¼ cup flour

1 ½ cups fat free milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded Guyére and Swiss cheese blend

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

2 eggs, beaten

6 oz sardine fillets, packed in oil, drained

¼ cup bread crumbs

What the Saveur Recipe Says:

Cook chard in salted boiling water until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Drain, let cool, and squeeze dry. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter plus olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook garlic and shallots until golden, 5-7 minutes. Add flour to create a roux; cook 2 minutes. Whisk in milk, cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return to simmer and cook until thick, 2-3 minutes. Stir in chard, half the cheese, the nutmeg, and eggs.

Heat oven to 400°; grease a loaf pan with oil. Spread half the chard mixture into dish; top with half the sardines. Repeat layering. Stir melted butter and bread crumbs in a bowl; sprinkle over top with remaining cheese. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.


What Happened In Real Life:

I was a bit distracted while I worked on this recipe, so I didn’t always remember to half the measurements as I had planned. Thankfully this recipe is VERY forgiving.  For example, I forgot to use half the cheese in the sauce and then layer with the other half.  I put it all into the sauce.  I also forgot to tell my fella to squeeze the chard gently.  He was great at getting the water out, but it took a little extra fluffing before putting it into the sauce.  I also didn’t look closely at the lid of the nutmeg and dumped about a tablespoon into the sauce before I spooned it out into the sink. And I also managed to spill some of the sardine juice on my shoe.  I didn’t realize it until later that night when my cat decided that she was very keen on licking my Keens.  





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