Here’s a recipe from one of my favorite restaurants: La Zucca Magica, in Nice. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed a few years ago, but I have very fond memories. It was an Italian vegetarian restaurant that had gotten much acclaim from guide books and the New York Times.
We didn’t have this dish at the restaurant but I made it when we got home using a recipe that was posted on the New York Times site that has since disappeared. Still, you can watch the YouTube video of NYTimes writer Mark Bittman making the dish. And I was able to save the written recipe (see below).
There are multiple flavors and textures that work well together in this tasty delicacy. The fresh healthy green of the soft swiss chard leaves; the savory taste of saffron; the bite of the lemon zest; and the sweetness of the Parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheese all make your taste buds dance.
I served this as the third course in a three course meal I created from recipes I got in Southern France. Although none of the courses contained meat, the three courses were very filling. The first course was a cantaloupe gazpacho with crispy prosciutto. The second course was a tomato stuffed with pasta salad.
Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella
- Vegetable broth (6 cups)
- Arborio rice (1 cup)
- Saffron (1 large pinch)
- Lemon (1 small, zested)
- Butter (2 tablespoons)
- Parmesan Cheese (1/2 cup grated
- I recommend using the best, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- Salt and pepper
- Swiss chard leaves (6 large)
- Mozzarella (1/2 pound cut into small cubes)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (enough to drizzle over the leaves)
- Step 1 Make risotto by heating up 1 tbsp of butter and adding the rice. Stir and then add one up of the vegetable broth. Keep heat on low to medium. When the liquid is absorbed add another cup and stir until all three cups are used. Rice should be barely tender.
- Step 2 Dissolve saffron in juice of one lemon. Add to rice, along with butter, Parmesan, zest of one lemon and pepper to taste. Allow rice to cool a bit. Rice can be made in advance at this point (up to 1 day), but do not refrigerate it.
- Step 3 Poach chard leaves in about 2 cups remaining broth for about 45 seconds. Take out, drain on a dishcloth, and cut out the hardest part of central stem. Reserve cooking broth.
- Step 4 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With wet hands, form 6 balls of rice 2 to 3 inches across. Dig a hole in each ball and insert mozzarella. Wrap each ball in a chard leaf.
- Step 5 Put balls in a close-fitting oven pan, with enough reserved broth to come about a half-inch up the sides of the balls. Bake 20 minutes.
- Step 6 Serve balls topped with a little more broth, more lemon zest, Parmesan and olive oil.