Asparagi e Biete Gratinati col Parmigiano

Gratinéed Asparagus and Swiss Chard

It is a Rare vegetable that cannot profit from this classic treatment: parboiling it, placing it in a baking dish with butter and Parmesan, and baking it until the cheese forms a crust. In this instance it is a combination of two vegetables, Swiss chard and asparagus. Since their spearlike shape is similar, the contrast in appearance is the subdued one of Swiss chard white against asparagus green. In taste the differences are equally fine, but nonetheless perceptible: the gentle flavor of Swiss chard, the more explicit one of asparagus, a mutually helpful association.

Only the stalks of the chard are employed here. Do not discard the leaves, however; use them in one of the ways suggested in the introduction to the recipe for cannelloni.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Swiss chard
  • Salt
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • An oven-to-table baking dish
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

Method

  1. Trim the Swiss chard stalks of all leaves. Cut off any discolored portion of the bottom of the stalks but shorten them no farther. Wash them in several changes of cold water.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in the stalks and cook them until they feel tender when probed with a fork. Scoop them out with a colander or slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Clean the asparagus as described.
  4. Bring the water to a boil once again, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and, as the water returns to a boil, drop in the asparagus. Cook until tender but not limp. Drain.
  5. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  6. Smear the baking dish with ½ tablespoon of the butter. Line the bottom with a layer of chard stalks. Sprinkle with salt, then top with a layer of asparagus. Repeat the procedure until you have used up both vegetables. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top, distributing it evenly. Dot with the remaining butter. Place the dish in the uppermost level of the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a light brown crust forms on top. Serve a few minutes after removing from the oven to allow the heat to subside and the flavors to emerge.

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