Swiss Chard Tart with Saffron

Beautiful rainbow chard from Wildroot Farm in Maine

San Francisco’s Greens Restaurant

In 1984 I moved to San Francisco after graduating from the University of Oregon. One of the first “fancy” restaurant meals I had was at Greens, which sits atop a pier jutting into the San Francisco bay, providing an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge. What I didn’t know at the time was that Greens was and is, a vegetarian restaurant. Back in Eugene, vegetarian restaurants were a lot less fancy and the food was a lot less tasty. Not that it mattered to me, I was nowhere near becoming a vegetarian but I was a fan of great food and beautiful views.

Deborah Madison was the restaurant’s founding chef. When she wrote “The Greens Cookbook” which was published in May of 1987, I bought it for myself as a birthday gift. It has been one of my “go-to” cookbooks for 25 years. This recipe is a loose interpretation of Deborah’s recipe “Chard and Saffron Tart.”

Speaking about saffron, Shakespeare wrote in this in “The Winters Tale”

“I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates? – none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ the sun.”

Saffron can be expensive but you don’t use much and it really adds to the flavor. Saffron is harvested from a type of crocus. If you live where there are mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers you might try your hand at growing and harvesting it. Just know that it takes between 50,000 and 75,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron.

This is a great make-ahead dish that really doesn’t last long once someone has a slice (it made a great picnic lunch when I was trying to impress a date) . The Swiss chard, baked custard and the flecks of saffron make it very pretty. I’ve enhanced this with goat cheese but feel free to try feta or stick with parmesan. Also, the original recipe calls for pine nuts but here I use chopped walnuts I harvested last year. As always, I recommend using organic when possible and always try to buy local ingredients.

Swiss Chard Tart with Saffron

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1 recipe tart dough, recipe below
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped medium
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt (less if you use a salty cheese like feta)
  • 3 free-range large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or cream
  • Large pinch of saffron, soaked in a tbsp of warm water
  • 3/4 tsp lemon zest
  • 5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • nutmeg
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

Prepare the tart dough as below and then make the shell.

Remove the stems and save for another use. Roughly cut the Swiss chard into 1 inch pieces, rinse well and drain.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, cook the onion over medium heat until soft, then add the garlic and the Swiss chard. Toss everything and sprinkle in the salt. Using tongs (or a couple of forks), toss and cook for about 5 minutes until the the leaves are tender. Set aside while you make the custard.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the milk or cream, the saffron, lemon zest, cheese parsley, fresh nutmeg and freshly grounded pepper. Add the the chard mixture and carefully pour it into the shell. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts on top. I recommend having the shell on a cookie sheet and baking it on the sheet to catch any drips.

Put into a preheated 350 degree oven and bake about 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for a while before you serve.

Flakey Tart Dough

Makes 1 9 or 10 inch tart shell

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup ice cold water
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little extra
  • 10 tbsp of cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Mix the salt and the cold water together.

In a food processor, place the flour and butter in the bowl and pulse briefly to form crumbs (don’t over pulse). Add the water mixture and pulse again until just mixed.

Put the dough on a lightly floured board, form it into a 1 inch thick round, wrap with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator about 30 minutes.

To make the tart shell, roll the dough out to fill your tart pan or use a pie dish (I do). Put it in the pan and then put it into the freezer while your oven heats to 425 degrees. Bake the tart for about 8 minutes. If it starts to “puff up” anywhere, just poke it with a pairing knife. You can also, bake this unfrozen by lining the shell with buttered foil and adding some dried beans you keep for this purpose.

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