Whether it be a blintz, stuffed grape leaf or burrito, I bet we can all agree that there is something so appealing about food that comes in its own little package. Even if we know exactly whats inside, part of the fun of eating them is cutting (or biting) into the packet and discovering what deliciousness lays within the wrapper. Anything thin, pliable and somewhat sturdy can be used as a wrapper, including ultra-nutritious Swiss Chard leaves.
Right now you can find a colorful assortment of chard leaves at the farmers market. Chard most commonly comes in white, red and yellow (you can easily identify the color varietal by looking at the stem). Regardless of the color, chard is an extremely nutrient-dense food. Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins K, A and C and is a very good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, vitamin E, dietary fiber and calcium. Plus, it only has 35 calories per cup.
I stuffed the leaves with barley couscous mixed with pancetta, pine nuts, olives and fontina cheese. Barley couscous is, you guessed it, made from barley instead of semolina flour that most "regular" couscous are made of, making it a more filling, nutritious and flavorful version. If you can't find it in your local market, you can order it online from Sahadi's, a fabulous import market in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Alternatively, regular or whole wheat couscous would work as well.
Swiss Chard Roll Ups
1/2 c. barley couscous
3/4 c. stock or water, plus 1/2 c. for steaming
12 large chard leaves
1 TBSP olive oil
1/8 lb pancetta, small dice
1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 TBSP pine nuts, toasted
handful olives (I used a combination of kalamata & green), chopped
4 oz. fontina cheese, grated
Prepare cousous: Place couscous in a bowl. Bring 3/4 c. stock or water to a boil and pour over couscous. Cover the bowl and let sit for 10 mins. Remove cover, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
Prepare chard leaves: Remove the course stems from the chard by making a narrow triangular cut into the base of the leaf. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and blanch the leaves for about 20 secs, until tender. Drain carefully and lay out on paper towels to dry.
Prepare filling: Saute pancetta in olive oil over med-low heat until beginning to get crispy. Add shallot and garlic and continue to cook until shallot has softened and garlic has become fragrant. Transfer to the bowl with couscous. Add pine nuts and olives to mixture and adjust seasoning.
Assemble packets: Lay out a chard leaf and place a spoonful of filling near the base of the leaf. Top filling with some of the fontina cheese. Fold in the sides and roll. Place the packets seam side down in a pan and pour 1/2 c. of stock or water around them. Cover and steam over med-low heat for about 10 mins.