Distracted by Lidia
I’ve had swiss chard and potatoes on my mind all morning. More specifically, the bietola e patate Lidia’s Italy-Kansas City served at a press lunch earlier this week. The event was a meet-and-greet with Lidia Bastianich, meant to promote her latest book, Nonna Tell Me a Story. It is indeed a charming tale, about Lidia’s cooking with her own Nonna Rosa during the holidays as a child, and then later with her family as Nonni Lidia. Bastianich told me her grandchildren were involved throughout the book, especially when it came to critiquing the illustrations of themselves.
I look forward to reading it with my kids and to baking the peanut butter and jelly cookies, and fried ribbon cookies and other treats in the recipe section with them. But every time I started to write about the book this morning, my mind instead turned to that rustic dish served alongside lamb chops at Tuesday’s meal.
So, rather than fight the tide, I found the recipe on Lidia’s web site. Then I dug leftover braised chard (the last from this year’s garden) from the fridge and potatoes and garlic from the pantry and set to cooking. As with many things Italian, the dish is simple yet wholly satisfying. It’s now ready and waiting for tonight’s dinner. My kids aren’t big on greens or spuds, but that’s fine—that just leaves more for the grown-ups.
Here’s how to make bietola e patate, from Lidia’s Italy: Trim the ends from the stems of two pounds Swiss chard. Cut off and discard any wilted or yellow parts of the leaves. Strip the stems from the leaves and cut the stems into 1/2-inch lengths. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2 inch strips. Wash the leaf and stem pieces thoroughly, then drain them well.
Bring 4 quarts salted water to boil in a large pot. Peel 3 medium Idaho potatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds) and cut crosswise. Add the potatoes and cook 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and cook until the vegetables are very tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Peel and crush 4 garlic cloves. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add the Swiss chard and potatoes and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and mashing the potatoes, until the liquid is evaporated and the potatoes are coarsely mashed. If the potatoes begin to brown, adjust the level of heat to medium-low and continue stirring. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper, stir, and serve hot.