I haven’t been to Nice in years, but I’ve been dreaming about a visit ever since I read this article by Mark Bittman in 2008 about a vegetarian restaurant called La Zucca Magica. (I’ll just wait here for a minute while you go enjoy Google’s translation of that webpage.) Some people dream of lounging on the Riviera, I dream of magic squash and vegetarian fine dining, what can I say?
As you might imagine, I promptly cooked my way through the recipes featured along with Mr. Bittman’s column, and this dish was born of one of them. It’s been a regular feature at our table ever since, and when I make risotto I always hope for leftovers to roll up in chard leaves later in the week. (Of course you can follow the original recipe and make a risotto just for this dish–the lemony risotto in the recipe is quite nice–but that’s a bit ambitious for me these days.) The Leek and Green Garlic Risotto from the other night was perfect.
There’s also a buried treasure in there: a gooey, rich strand of mozzarella cheese that reveals itself as you dig into each austere-looking package. You could omit this if you’re using a risotto that’s already as decadent as the Leek and Green Garlic Risotto–but why?
Risotto-Stuffed Chard Leaves: Wash and dry a bunch or two of chard and use a knife to cut a narrow upside-down V in each leaf, removing the stem and the vein that runs up through the center of the leaf. Save those chard stems for making vegetable broth or another dish! Bring a few cups of vegetable broth to a simmer in a wide pan, and add chard leaves to blanch for 30 seconds, then use tongs to transfer them to a strainer (reserve the broth for later in the recipe). You may have to do this in a few batches.
Make the rolls as follows: lay a chard leaf (or two if they’re small) on the counter, overlapping the two sides in the middle to form one big surface. If there are holes, just grab another leaf and patch them up. Wet your hands and make a 2-3″ cylinder of risotto with a slice of mozzarella hidden in the middle. Place risotto about 2 inches down from the top of the chard leaf. Fold the top of the leaf down toward you over the risotto, then fold both sides of the leaf in toward the center. Roll the leaf into a tidy little package and place it in a baking pan. Repeat with remaining chard leaves and risotto. When your pan is full or you run out of ingredients, whichever comes first, pour 1/2″ of the reserved broth into the pan and bake the rolls at 400 for 15 minutes. Serve dusted with Parmesan and olive oil, or lemon zest, or a drizzle of pesto–or plain. Do I have to tell you that you’ll want a salad with these? I didn’t think so.