Cook what you grow ... Chard gratin

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I’M addicted to old cookery books and bought a little gem in Barter Books, in Alnwick, on New Year’s Day.

It’s Le Répertoire de la Cuisine, a French classic written in 1914 by Auguste Escoffier. It has about 7,000 recipes in a tiny volume, all basically in shorthand, to act as a memory jogger to forgetful chefs.

It doesn’t even give quantities, assuming you’ll know already, but it’s a fascinating read. It helps to read it imagining a French Basil Fawlty has written it...

Mine is the 13th edition, (early 1960s – there’s an ad for a catering utensils supplier by appointment to the Queen).

There’s passages such as: “Pompous words such as Cryptogamia instead of mushroom should not be used although, if employed with extreme moderation, a bold euphemism such as ‘Black Pearls’ for truffles is occasionally permissible.”

Another favourite: “To the society host or hostess. Le Répertoire is invaluable.

“Its limited edition and and discriminative distribution ensures the possessor of invaluable knowledge for the production of the best menus.”

As it’s been so mild, the chard Lucullus I’ve left to overwinter is sprouting away.

Here’s what Le Répertoire, which refers to chard as blettes, says you can do: “The leaves are cooked like spinach and the stalks like cardons (cardoons) or salsifis (salsify).”

Here’s chard gratin (with more interpretation from me): Blanch or steam the stems until tender.

Lie in a shallow dish, cover with mornay sauce (béchamel sauce mixed with butter, grated gruyère cheese and parmesan), sprinkle with grated cheese.

Cook in preheated over for about 25mins at 180ºC (Gas mark 4), or until bubbling.