Swiss chard is one of the most versatile greens, and one of my favorites to cook with. In this recipe, its substantial leaves are used as vehicles for a creamy orzo filling accentuated with toasty fried almonds. The stems are cut up, cooked and added to the filling. The idea is to have enough extra filling to create a festive-looking finished product equally worthy of a weeknight dinner or a celebration.
2½ cups orzo
½ pound feta cheese (preferably sheep milk)
½ cup fresh mint, packed
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup blanched slivered almonds
1 bunch Swiss chard (12–15 leaves)
2 lemons, sliced thinly, each slice cut into half-moons (for garnish)
In a medium pot, bring 5 cups water to boil. Add the orzo and turn heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until orzo is cooked. Mean-while, in a food processor, combine the feta, mint, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and salt and pepper. Process until smooth.
Drain the orzo in a colander, then pour back into pot. Add the feta mixture and combine well until the orzo is creamy. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to come to room temperature.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, fry the almonds in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil until golden brown, stirring frequently and being careful not to burn. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Reserve the pan and residual oil for later use.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Blanch the Swiss chard for 20–30 seconds, or until the leaves are fully wilted. Drain in a colander, allow to cool and transfer to a cutting board. Carefully remove about ¾ of each leaf’s stem. Finely chop the stems and add to the pan used for frying the almonds, cooking over medium-high heat in the residual oil (add an extra splash if necessary) for about 3 minutes, or until tender. Add to the orzo mixture and stir to combine.
Once both the chard leaves and orzo mixture have cooled to room temperature, begin stuffing the leaves. Place a heaping tablespoon of orzo filling and a sprinkle of fried almonds at the stemless end of each leaf and roll, carefully tucking in the sides as you go, to create stuffed leaves with the appearance of stuffed grape leaves. Repeat until all leaves are stuffed—depending on the size of each leaf, you may need to add more or less filling. There will be lots of orzo left over.
To serve, heap the remaining orzo mixture onto a serving platter or large plate. If on a platter, scatter the stuffed leaves on top and sprinkle with remaining almonds. Arrange slivers of lemon around the platter and drizzle with olive oil. If on a plate, heap the orzo into a neat mound and arrange the stuffed leaves in a spiral pattern on top, placing a sliver of lemon between each leaf. Sprinkle with remaining almonds, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
LUKE PYENSON is a food and travel writer, recipe developer, food stylist and photographer based in New York City. You can see examples of his work at www.lukepyenson.com.