What makes you sing? I’m not talking about pretending to be a rock star when your favorite tune comes on the radio; belting out lyrics while driving home from work. No, I mean when you suddenly realize that you’re humming something. Not a song, really, just humming because you’re completely at ease and happy with the moment.
A writing teacher once said she starts to hum when she sits down to write. For me, it’s when I walk into my kitchen. I suddenly find myself humming as I mis-en-place myself around a recipe; and even find myself humming when I clean the kitchen, putting everything in its place. Crazy, I know. But it’s one of the many ways that I know that my whole being loves creating something in the kitchen, not just one part of me. Being in the kitchen both grounds me and lifts my spirits all at the same time.
I think it’s so important to find what does that for you, so you have a place you can go to in good times and in bad; a touchstone. When I was working full-time, and 60-hour weeks were the norm, coming home to cook dinner for myself helped me to gather up the fragmented pieces of my life that inevitably scattered during the day.
If I’m not able to get myself into a kitchen to cook for a few days, something isn’t quite right in my psyche. Something feels missing, until I can once again feel the boards of my kitchen floor beneath my feet, sink into the rhythm of my favorite chef’s knife dicing up an onion, and breathe in the heady aroma as it gently sizzles in the hot butter.
So, what makes you sing?
Swiss Chard and Quinoa Gratin
- 4 large bunches swiss chard
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 strips bacon
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- lemon juice from 1/2 medium lemon
- 3/4 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated asiago cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups gremolata breadcrumbs or mix with ground pumpkin seeds
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Coarsely chop the swiss chard into large pieces, roughly 2″ X 2″, including their stems and add to the boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and place in a colander. Place a weight over it, for example some plates or a heavy pot, in order to squeeze as much water out as possible. As a final step you can roll the chard up in a towel and squeeze out remaining water. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the tomatoes in half, toss in 1 teaspoon olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes on a foil lined baking sheet, with the cut side facing upwards. Roast for 30 minutes, or until slightly dried and puckered around the edges.
Slice the bacon into 1/4″ wide strips, called lardons, and fry until just crispy. Set aside and pour out all of the bacon grease except for 1 tablespoon.
Add the butter to the remaining bacon grease, and when melted, add the chopped onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Add the bacon lardons, roasted tomatoes, lemon juice, cooked quinoa and chopped chard. Saute for another minute, and set aside.
Combine the cheeses, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a medium bowl, and loosely stir into the chard mixture.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spoon the chard – cheese mixture into a baking dish and top with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve warm.