Kale is the current media darling of the moment, however, Italians are crazy for dark leafy greens of all kinds and, especially in fall and winter, the Swiss chard called for in this hearty main dish is a staple of green grocers throughout Italy. The vegetable (bietola in Italian) belongs to the same family as beets and spinach, sharing with them a similar taste profile with a flavor that is bitter, pungent and slightly salty. Despite its name, Switzerland has no place in this story since the real homeland of Swiss chard lies much further south, in the Mediterranean region. The ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, honored chard for its medicinal properties and so should we: recent research shows that its impressive list of health-promoting nutrients are antioxidant, cardio-protective and offer special benefits for blood sugar control.
Easy Italian Recipes
This recipe uses boneless chicken thighs that are as easy to work with as chicken breasts, but have a deeper flavor and pose less risk of overcooking. Wrapping the thighs in slices of pancetta makes them self-basting so that the chicken can be baked in oven without adding any fat or oil. The baked chicken is then combined with bright, citrusy orange peel and the pungent (and healthy) greens that have been livened up with a clove of garlic. Pine nuts are added for texture and extra crunch; then the whole thing is simmered in fresh orange juice for another 10 minutes so the flavors have a chance to deepen and meld. This recipe, courtesy of La Cucina Italiana, is elegant enough to serve to guests, but homey enough for a weekday family dinner. Try this tasty Italian recipe on a chilly night in January or February with a couple of glasses of red wine; for example, a Val di Cornia Rosso from the provinces of Livorno and Pisa, or any other dry, slightly fruity red wine.
Recipe for Chicken with Pancetta, Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts
Ingredients for 4 servings
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ pound sliced pancetta
- 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1⅓ pounds Swiss chard, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted if you wish
Heat oven to 400°. Season the chicken with pepper, roll into little bundles and wrap with pancetta; stick them with a toothpick to hold together. Place side-by-side in a baking dish and bake until browned, about 20 minutes.
While chicken is baking, cut a 1-inch wide strip of peel from the orange, avoiding the pith, and thinly slice. Set sliced peel aside. Squeeze juice from orange.
Remove chicken from oven. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chard and orange peel; cook, stirring, until chard is wilted, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt.
Transfer chicken to the skillet with chard; add orange juice and pine nuts (lightly toasting the pine nuts in a non-stick skillet for a few minutes before using them will enhance their flavor). Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through and flavors have blended, about 10 minutes.
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