Wednesday, January 23, 2008
La trouchia - Swiss chard omelette
Something I've learned over time at the Cours Saleya market is that things are not always as they appear.
So, with my heart set on trouchia for lunch, I didn't panic when I saw that the producer famed among local chefs for her Swiss chard had laid out nothing more than mixed salad leaves, a dozen lemons and a few cartons of eggs on her trestle table. Sneaking a discreet peek under the table, I asked her sweetly, "You wouldn't happen to have any blettes, would you?"
Her eyes narrowed. "How many bunches do you need?"
Triumph. The chard - or silverbeet, as it's sometimes called - had been set aside for those who could prove they wanted it badly enough. Happily I've shopped at this market long enough to know just who might be hiding what, and for whom (as I walked away with the chard I saw the chef who had no doubt reserved most of the day's harvest).
I've always had a fondness for chard's thick ribs and crinkly, spinach-like leaves, but only in Nice has this vegetable become something I couldn't possibly live without. Centuries before they tasted their first vine-ripened tomatoes, the farmers in the hills behind Nice made hardy Swiss chard their staple vegetable. It stretches small amounts of meat in Niçois ravioli and lentil-sausage stew and stars as the main ingredient in tians and tourtes, including a sweet variation with pine nuts, raisins and rum. Some producers sell a thin-ribbed local variety, which is perfect for recipes that call only for the leaves.
I love it that a chef like Franck, who goes through caviar and truffles by the case at the Louis XV in Monaco, can get so excited when instructing me on how to make la trouchia, a thick Swiss chard omelette with just enough egg to bind it together. They key is not to precook the chard but to get the temperature just right so that the leaves don't give off too much water as they cook. It's safest to cook it in a non-stick pan, though I've got away with using my well-seasoned cast iron pan.
If you find yourself with any leftovers (we never have), try them tucked into a sandwich, just as Franck's mother used to do - preferably standing on a mountainside with wild thyme and rosemary at your feet.
Because trouchia makes great picnic food and is vegetarian to boot, I'm submitting this recipe to Mansi's blogging event Game Night. Eat it hot, warm, cold, in a sandwich or cut into bite-sized pieces and served with toothpicks.
The quantities for this recipe aren't precise - just use enough egg so that the mixture doesn't seem too dry and don't skimp on the parmesan. Feel free to add chopped garlic and some mint or basil if it's in season.
1 bunch Swiss chard (silverbeet), leaves only
1/2 bunch flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
3-4 eggs, just enough to bind the mixture
50 g parmesan cheese (about 2 oz)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp good quality olive oil
Wash and dry the chard leaves well (I often let them soak for about 30 mins in salted water to remove some of the bitterness). Slice them very thinly and place in a large bowl with the chopped parsley leaves. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and add to the chard, adding three eggs at first and a fourth (or even a fifth) if necessary. Grate the parmesan and stir it into the mixture along with the seasonings.
Warm the oil over medium heat in a heavy frying pan (24 cm seems to be an ideal size) with a tight-fitting lid. Add the chard and press down with a wooden spoon to flatten the mixture. Cover, lower the heat a little and cook for about 15 mins, until the base is browned. Keep an eye on it to be sure that it doesn't cook too quickly or slowly. Now place a large plate over the pan, put on some oven mitts and flip the omelette over onto the plate. Slide it back into the frying pan, cover again and cook for another 5-10 mins, until lightly browned on the other side. Serve hot, warm or cold.