After yet another weekend with no cooking (which included, however, a gorgeous wedding, a Coloradoan winter storm, and the delicious discovery of Chipotle - glory be!), I skipped blithely around the greenmarket yesterday, gathering up my ingredients for dinner. Don't you love it when you can bypass the store entirely? I do. I bought shiny, bright bunches of Swiss chard, aromatic bundles of gritty leeks, smooth, nut-brown eggs, and thick-cut bacon streaked with creamy white fat from Dines Farms.
I'd been meaning to make these timbales since Florence Fabricant first wrote about them a year ago, as a pairing with red Loire Valley wines, but something else always came first. This time around, I would not let myself be deterred. Be forewarned: an awful lot of prep work goes into making these. Washing chard and leeks alone takes a while. Then you have to dice chard stems and garlic, and chop chard leaves and leeks finely, not to mention whip egg whites and grease muffin tins. But it's satisfying kitchen work, especially if you have enough cutting boards.
And the smell that that wafts through your kitchen whilst making these? Worth every step.
After I had chopped and diced and softened and wilted and stirred, I had a bright green mixture redolent with fresh garlic and smoky bacon and that woodsy scent of chard. I stirred in some breadcrumbs and bright yellow yolks, then lightened the whole thing with creamily beaten egg whites. I spooned this delicate mixture into muffin tins (which, by the way, despite being oiled and crumbed, did not do a great job of releasing the cooked timbales) and baked them for 20 minutes.
While those cooked, I threw together Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce with butter and onion - this recipe alone makes the purchase of her book worthwhile - with diced tomatoes and let it simmer away. When the timbales were finished, I spooned some chunky sauce on each plate and arranged a few timbales on top. The bright chunks of diced tomatoes were the perfect foil to the timbales, which were delicate and hearty at the same time.
We ate our dinner quickly before running off to see Marie Antoinette (in case you're wondering? I was underwhelmed. Though now I think I have to read Antonia Fraser's book.) The timbales were fussy to prepare and not necessarily something I could do most nights of the week. And without the juicy sauce, they might have been a tad too dry. But as we ate them, they were tasty and different and certainly worth trying.
Swiss Chard Timbales
Yields 12 timbales
1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, preferably red-stemmed, well-rinsed
Butter or oil for greasing molds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
3 ounces slab bacon, finely diced
1 cup finely chopped leeks
5 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Cut stems from Swiss chard. Finely chop stems and leaves separately.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease six 6-ounce or eight 4-ounce timbale molds or muffin tins (I used a regular 12-cup muffin tin). Use 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs to coat them.
3. Place bacon in a heavy skillet over low heat. When it turns golden, add chard stems, leeks and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until vegetables are tender but not brown. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Add chopped Swiss chard leaves to skillet, increase heat to medium-high and cook until leaves are wilted. Add leaves to bowl. Mix in 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs and egg yolks. Beat whites until they hold peaks but are still creamy. Fold in. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
5. Transfer mixture to prepared molds. Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top. Bake 20 minutes. Unmold and serve hot.