I made creamed chard* the other day to sit atop a mound of curried lentils. In order to cream chard, you need to take the stems off. If you leave them on, stringy bits twist around the blender blades and get caught in your teeth. The creaminess is ruined. So I chopped off the stems, but they’re bright pink, I piled them in a container and put them in the fridge. Too pretty for the green bin. Days went by, meals and cycles of children, until all that was left was that container of chopped, pink stems.
“I love limitations,” said my architect sister, emphatically. “When a client says they want a house featuring the sunset and a walk-in closet, I have the tools to move forward, one step at a time.”
When I have a container of pink stems, I have the tools to move forward in a very specific, narrow direction – soup.
I’m taking a writing class with Molly Wizenburg. The class meets on Tuesday nights over zoom, each of us tucked into our respective corners of the continent squished into small, rectangular screens. A few days before each class Molly emails us a writing prompt. This week it was about the creative relationship between limitations and freedom. Molly referenced a live performance she once attended where David Byrne gave a talk called “I ♡ Powerpoint.”
“When you pick up a pencil, you know what you’re getting,” he said. “You don’t think, ‘I wish this could write in a million colours.’ I love not having an unlimited palette. In that sense, [Powerpoint] is like a pencil. You don’t expect to have other typefaces or fonts; you have fun with what’s there.”
There are people around the world, still in lockdown, wishing they could use more than a pencil right now. They want a million colours. I get that. But if a pencil is all you have (or a few cups of chopped chard stems), why not make soup.
A Hearty Soup/Stew Made From Bits From the Fridge
Chop the ends off a bunch of Swiss chard and put them in the fridge for many days until you’re ready to make soup. They’re forgiving.
For the soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
80g pancetta, about 1/4 cup, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
a big handful of small potatoes, chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
all those chopped chard ends (ends from 2 bunches)
1/3 cup (60g) French lentils (that’s all I had, feel free to add more)
a piece of Parmesan rind, for flavour
crème fraîche, to garnish
chopped fresh herb(s), to garnish
cracked black pepper, to taste
In a soup pot, sauté pancetta (or bacon, or some leftover ham, or omit this all together) in the olive oil. When pancetta begins to brown, add celery and onion and stir until everything is glistening. Add chopped potatoes and a good pinch of salt, about 1/2 teaspoon. Add chopped chard stems and a Parmesan rind, if you have one, then add water, just to cover. Stir, then cover pot, almost, leaving a crack for steam to escape, and let soup simmer away, at least 20 minutes, until potatoes and lentils are tender.
If you’re feeling fancy and happen to have crème fraîche left over from Christmas like I do, make a ‘quenelle’ (fancy dollop**) to crown the soup and make it creamy. Finish with cracked black pepper and whatever fresh herbs you might have- I had fresh basil.
*to make creamed chard, (as seen above) chop the green leaves from 2 bunches of Swiss chard and wash well. In a saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté 1 small chopped onion in the oil until translucent. Add chopped leaves and stir well until they are glossy. Add a splash more oil if needed. When greens begin to wilt slightly, add 1 cup of 10% cream (or a mix of full fat cream and milk) and bring to a boil. Add a big pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste. (At this point, add whatever spices will suit your needs – cardamon and cumin, or chilli flakes, or steak spice if serving traditionally with steak… or even just a pinch of nutmeg. Delicious.) Take chard off the heat, place in a blender or food processor and pulse until creamed. Leave a little texture, you don’t want baby food.
**to make a quenelle, dip two spoons in a warm jar of water. Scoop crème fraîche with one spoon, and with a hand over hand action, transfer crème fraîche from one spoon to the other. A visual helps; I like this one.