Chances are that you’ve never actually gone to the oracle at Google and asked for the phrase “hide vegetables.” But if you did, the autofill suggestions would include:
- Hide vegetables in meatloaf
- Hide vegetables in desserts
- Hide vegetables toddlers
The first two just sound kind of sad, but I’m assuming, unless there are more illicit vegetable dealers looking for mules than I realize, that the last of these means that people are desperate to trick their kids into to eating more vegetables.
It breaks my heart to hear that, because vegetables are the best. THE BEST! I mean, right up there with meat, grains, fish and dairy, but still. Don’t hide your vegetables, be proud of them! Make your children ashamed that they don’t like them! (Don’t really do that.)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how to hide vegetables, but for a different reason. For most of us, vegetables are served by themselves, the virtuous side dish. But there’s such a huge range of flavors and textures in the vegetable world that I think they’re thrilling to use, almost invisibly, as seasoning– the surprise of biting into something and getting their flavor, unexpected and delightful. Using vegetable juices instead of stocks, dehydrating them into powders, and just plain old slipping them into camouflage.
This dish, a take on the classic “eggs in purgatory,” where they’re poached directly in spicy tomato sauce, makes a great brunch or a hearty, healthful dinner. The egg is tender and creamy, the chard leaves full of flavor and bright with vinegar. But the star is the sauce: Packed with softened red chard stems, the savory tomato puree takes on an earthy, minerally flavor that you can’t quite place because the color of the greens is disguised in the red sauce. And that’s when you’ll realize the vegetables aren’t hiding, they’re being coy.
Spicy Tomato-Chard Poached Eggs
If you’d like, this sauce is also wonderful on its own without the eggs, or with pasta.
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for greens
1 bunch red swiss chard (a little over a pound), well washed, stems stripped from leaves
1 anchovy (optional, but very nice)
24 ounces crushed tomatoes (preferably canned if not in season)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Salt, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Dark vinegar, to taste (Sherry, balsamic, or whatever you like)
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste, optional
1. In a large saucepan over low heat, warm the ¼ cup of olive oil and garlic. Let it slowly come to a gentle sizzle, and let the garlic infuse the oil. In this case, I like for the garlic to stay creamy and pale in color – I think the flavor is a little cleaner and sharper. But if you prefer, you can turn up the heat slightly and let it get toasty brown. Just don’t burn it. Only bad people like burnt garlic.
2. While the garlic and oil are getting friendly, thinly slice the chard stems; if they’re thick, an inch or wider, chop them fine. By now, the pan should smell really good. Turn the heat up to medium and stir in the stems. Season to taste with salt and red pepper, and add the anchovy if using. Sweat the stems: The gentle sautéing action of sweating breaks down the cell walls of vegetables, releasing their juices and letting them evaporate and concentrate before you add the liquid. It helps to build flavor in layers, creating complexity. Just be careful who you say that to, or people will roll their eyes at what an incorrigible foodie you are. If they do, don’t tell them I told you.
3. When the stems have lost some of their crunch and look nice and sweaty, add the stock and let it reduce by half or so. Add the tomato, bring to a boil and turn down to a gentle simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
4. While the sauce is simmering, take the eggs out of the fridge and set aside. Stack the chard leaves, roll into a cigar, and slice into ¼” ribbons.
5. Cook the sauce until chard stems are tender, which could be in 10 minutes, or could be in 20, depending on your stems. Puree the sauce in a blender or with a handheld blender. (If the stems aren’t fully tender yet, that’s ok too – the pureeing will take care of most of it. The texture will just be a little coarser, which you might like better anyway.) Add the sauce back to pan, and either reduce or add water or stock so that the texture is somewhere between thick tomato soup and pizza sauce. Season to taste with salt, red pepper flakes, and just enough sugar to take a little of the tart edge off the tomatoes.
6. Using a spoon, push aside a little sauce to form a small well, and crack an egg into it. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Turn down the heat so that the sauce is bubbling only very slightly. Cover pan and let the eggs cook, checking on them after about 3 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and when it’s hot enough to shimmer, quickly sauté the chard leaves. Season with salt, to taste. Once the leaves are wilted, season with vinegar to taste, just enough to make them a little tart.
8. Once eggs are cooked until the whites are opaque but the yolk runny, spoon one on each plate. Surround with sauce and sautéed chard leaves. Serve with toast or roasted potatoes and grated Parmesan cheese.
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