I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater. I always look forward to delving into the local food scene when I'm away from home, whether it's a couple hundred miles or a couple of continents away. I've eaten everything from bowls of black rice pudding in Bali to a bag of fried okra at a gas station in Louisiana. Maple syrup in Vermont, macadamia nut ice cream in Hawaii, lobster in Maine? Of course. Pan-fried squirrel for dinner? A local Missouri specialty that I discovered is surprisingly good. Then again, pretty much anything 'rolled in flour and fried,' which is the standard way of preparing things around here, is good in my book.
I don't do much traveling now that I live on a farm with dozens of animals, but I still get out enough to know there's something weird going on with our food these daysÂ—and it has nothing to do with culture or location. Always desperate to come up with something new and exciting, marketing departments everywhere are inventing some really weird stuff. Banana nut bread cereal? Chili cheese taco dogs? Toasted coconut cream pie lattÃ©? Philly cheese steak pizza? I can't be the only one who finds these things (which are all real by the way) a little freaky. Personally I prefer my food in its natural stateÂ—I want banana bread in a loaf, chili dogs in buns, and pie with a crust in a pan where it belongs (though I'll admit that lattÃ© did sound pretty good.)
No foodie is infallible, though, and one blustery day last winter I took an upside down ride on the recipe roller coaster. I had a bumper crop of Swiss chard in the greenhouse and a craving for soup in the kitchen, so I turned this Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip I created for an NPR Kitchen Window article into something infinitely more slurpable. It was tasty and healthy andÂ—dare I admit itÂ—even a little exciting. And while I did once top a homemade pizza with the cooked vegetable base of dip mixture (delicious!), I promise I'll never create a Swiss chard and artichoke flavored lattÃ© or breakfast cereal. I can't, of course, speak for those desperate marketing departments.
So what's the most bizarre crossover food you've ever come across?
Susan's Chardichoke Soup
One of the things I love about Swiss chard is how incredibly large the leaves can get, but when I step inside the greenhouse and feel as if I've suddenly been transported to Jurassic Park, it starts to get a little scary. That's when it's time to whack them down and hit them with some heat, because even the most enormous leaves will shrink down to practically nothing if you cook them. It never ceases to amaze me that a bowl of bounty nearly too big to get through the door will fit inside a teacup once you cook it. And the concentrated amount of nutrients that must be contained in that teacup is mind-boggling.
Swiss chard is easy to grow from seed, and it does exceptionally well in containers, so even apartment dwellers have no excuse not to try growing some. Three or four plants will fit comfortably in a 14-inch-wide pot. You'll find detailed growing information in this article: How To Grow Swiss Chard From Seed and Why You Should.
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts in water (about 8 hearts), drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1 pound), leaves and stalks separated and both chopped into pieces (save a few stalks for garnish if desired)
2 to 3 Tablespoons softened cream cheese cut into chunks or 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Chopped chives or scallions
Swiss chard stalks
Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat, then add the onions and Swiss chard stems. Stir to coat with oil, cover, and cook until soft and starting to brown, stirring frequently, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add a splash of water to soak up any flavorful brown bits sticking to the pot.
Make a space in the center of the pot and add the garlic, stirring so it all touches the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the artichokes, garbanzo beans, chicken stock Worcestershire sauce, and Swiss chard leaves and stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with the lid barely cracked for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the cream cheese or heavy cream if desired.
PurÃ©e with an immersion blender, or transfer in batches to a countertop blender and very carefully purÃ©e, then return to the pot. I can't say enough good things about, or imagine life without, my KitchenAid Hand Blender; it's quite possibly the best $50 I've ever spent in the kitchen. Salt and pepper to taste and serve hot, garnished however you like.
How about some bread to go with your soup?
Beyond Easy Beer Bread (my most popular recipe)
Quick Rosemary Focaccia
Whole Wheat Beer Bread
Onion Rye Beer Bread
Savory Feta Cheese & Scallion Scones
Parisian Four Hour Daily Baguettes
No-Knead Crusty Freeform Bread
Oatmeal Toasting Bread (makes great rolls, too)
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Italian Black Olive Cheeks
Carrot Herb Rolls (And A Bargain Bread Book For Beginners)
Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza
You might also enjoy my other Less Fuss, More Flavor soup recipes:
Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Artichoke Soup
Cream (or not) Of Artichoke Soup With Garlic, Onions & Garbanzo Beans
Broccoli Onion Garbanzo Bean Soup
Susan's Super Spinach Soup
Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup
Hearty Lentil Soup With Smoked Sausage
Use It Or Lose It Lentil & Escarole Soup
Spur Of The Moment Summer Squash Soup
Simple Summer Harvest Soup
Simple Summer Harvest Soup: The Autumn Version
Farmgirl Susan, Gather Food Correspondent:
Susan's column, "In The Kitchen With Farmgirl Susan," is featured on GatherEssentials:Food and takes a Less Fuss, More Flavor approach to comfort food, seasonal eating, & organic kitchen gardening. Susan was a cultured California chick who happily turned manure mucking farmgirl and now lives on a 240-acre remote Missouri farm with several dozen sheep, a flock of crazy chickens, four dogs, eight cats, six very entertaining donkeys & one really wellfed farmguy. She shares stories and photos of her crazy country life with 60,000 visitors a month at her award-winning blog, FarmgirlFare.com.
Contents Â© copyright 2008 FarmgirlFare.com.