Really, it's not so bizarre to use vegetables in dessert. Consider zucchini bread and carrot cake. Or, what about red velvet beet cake, sweet potato pudding and avocado chocolate mousse? Dessert tarts made with Swiss chard have long been popular in the South of France — they even have Medieval origins! In Nice, where I first discovered this dessert tart, it is part of the culture and it's delicious.
Swiss chard is an abundant crop in southern France, which makes this dessert a clever way to use up excess chard. One thing is for certain, it was not created just to make the dessert more nutrient dense or higher in fiber — that is not the French way of eating. This dessert balances sweetness with the delicate tang of chard and bright citrus notes. The quick and easy light custard contrasts with crunchy toasted hazelnuts and a tart crust.
- 12 ounces whole, fresh Swiss chard leaves with stems (about 3½ ounces with stems removed)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 yolk from a large egg
- 1¼ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (from about half a large orange)
- ½ cup whole, toasted, skinless hazelnuts
- 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 premade 9-inch tart dough
- Blanch the chard (if all the chard leaves are small, young, thin and supple, skip this step) by heating a large pot of water (about 2½ quarts or enough to cover the chard leaves) over medium heat. Have a colander nearby and some cold water available. Rinse Swiss chard and remove the stems with a knife. When the water is simmering but not boiling, add the chard leaves all at once. Press the leaves into the water to cover. Remove them after 45 seconds or when the leaves become soft and pliable. Pour the chard into the colander and rinse with cold water. When cool enough to touch, press with your hands to squeeze out the excess water.
- Chop chard leaves.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F.
- Chop hazelnuts into roughly ¼-inch pieces. Scoop up the nuts and shake out the smaller bits and "nut dust" between your fingers. (Reserve smaller pieces and dust for another use.)
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, egg yolk, milk, vanilla extract and orange zest. Stir in the chopped Swiss chard.
- Pour mixture into the tart pan of the pre-cooked dough. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts evenly across the top and lightly press them into the custard.
- Bake for 30 to 34 minutes or until custard looks set — test it with a toothpick inserted into the custard for a clean removal. Remove and cool.
- Just before serving, sprinkle tart with powdered sugar. Serves 8.