A Winter Interlude | Blistered Tomatoes + Swiss Chard
Even though it’s the middle of winter (let’s pretend it wasn’t 70 degrees last week) and the market is a cornucopia of gnarly root veggies, I cannot stop eating tomatoes. They were the supporting character in last week’s meal, and for 5 weeks in a row a plastic clamshell of grape ‘maters has made its way into my grocery basket.
I feel a bit of shame buying tomatoes that are out of season, far-traveled and mediocre versions of their summery selves. But that shame is quickly covered up with a bouquet of rainbow swiss chard as I move on to more seasonal areas of the produce section before anyone can cast a judging glance my way.
It’s a strange and lovely thing that this dish has come to be a mainstay in my kitchen. There was once a time when the only kind of tomato I wanted to eat was from a can, simmering away in a spaghetti sauce or one that was plucked fresh off the vine and bursting with summer heat. Can you imagine me being so picky?!
And then the greens. It could be said that the timeline of my existence is divided into Life Before Greens and Life After Greens. In Canada, there was lettuce and spinach and basil. Distinct names for distinct leafy veg. But in Kentucky “greens” is a word embedded into everyday vernacular. It’s kale and collards and mustard and radish tops. It’s on restaurant menus as side dishes simply called “greens” without further identification. Of course, this was all very ten years ago. The southern food divide has expanded it’s range. It’s a modern world we live in!
So there was life before and after greens and now they are a staple of my diet. A grocery trip is not complete without kale or spinach or baby arugula or, these days, lots and lots of swiss chard. The bright red stalks of certain varieties are total babes nestled against their luscious counterparts. And then paired with some tomatoes, goodness gracious, y’all.
So about those out of season, bland tomatoes. This is what you do. You crank up the burner to a strong heat, pour a few glugs of olive oil into a pan, wait for it to get hot and shimmery, and throw in the tomatoes (grape is best for this, though cherry would do, too) and cover with a lid. I end up approaching the stove using the lid as a shield, because there will be some aggressive oil sputtering as soon as those tomatoes hit the pan. A face shield would not be inappropriate, either, if you have one.
Under the lid there will be a thick swirl of steam and a raucous of sizzle. Crack the lid just long enough to toss in some salt, give it all a good shake, and go tend to the swiss chard. The tomatoes will do their best if left alone for a few minutes. Wash the chard, separate the stalks from leaves, chop them up and add them to the tomatoes, which should start showing signs of blistering. Shake the pan again. Tear up the chard, no need for knives here, add them to the pan now, too, with more generous dashes of salt + pepper. The sizzle will calm down and you can gently mix everything together and call it done!
The process of blistering the tomatoes allows them to intensify in flavor, the steam under the lid enhances their juiciness. It’s a bit of alchemy you’ve concocted to bring them back to life. They turn into buttery, plump morsels that give a sweetness to the velvety tones of swiss chard. And somehow, it all feels very winter appropriate.
Blistered Tomatoes + Swiss Chard
As written, serves about 4 for a side dish
The quantities of the ingredients here don’t matter so much as the technique. The whole thing comes together in under 10 minutes and it’s a go-with-everything kinda dish. I’ve had it on polenta, pasta, rice, toast, and eggs (obviously there were eggs). Feel free to swap out the swiss chard for another leafy veg. Kale, spinach, or a mix of baby greens would all be great.
Blistered Tomatoes + Swiss Chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces grape tomatoes (add more or less based on your preference)
1 bunch of swiss chard (or greens of your choice)
Salt + pepper
Since this dish comes together rather quickly, prep your veg first. Wash your tomatoes and greens and do not dry them (the excess water will provide enough moisture for steaming). If using swiss chard, separate the stalks from the leaves and chop the stalks. (If using kale, discard the stalk. If using baby greens, this step is unnecessary.) Tear the leafy parts into bite sized pieces.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as the oil is shimmery and thin (about 1 minute) add tomatoes and a couple pinches of salt and cover with a lid. Allow tomatoes to cook for about 5-7 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Once the tomatoes have started to blister, add the swiss chard stalks (if using) and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Lower the heat to medium, add the greens, a couple more pinches of salt, and a few cracks of fresh black pepper. Gently toss and cover with a lid. Allow the greens to wilt, stirring them a couple times, and serve hot.