by Caroline


It seems amazing to me that three and a half years ago, I began a blog post, “Ben’s not a picky eater…” What happened?! One day he was eating toasts spread with goat cheese and eggplant caviar and then, one by one, foods started to leave his diet. I wonder sometimes about the impact of Tony’s and my vegetarian diet on him — after all, we were the ones who, by eliminating an entire category of foods from our diets, introduced the notion of pickiness in the first place. But I don’t care enough for meat, nor know well enough how to cook it, to make that change now, and I doubt he’d eat it anyway (his brother is another story, for another day).

Ben still eats a greater variety of foods than some children I know, for which I am very grateful (and for which I extend their very patient parents my understanding and sympathy); he loves just about any vegetable, including the typically unpopular cooked greens, he likes funny things like pickled ginger and burdock root, he eats all kinds of fruits. But I get sad that his strong feelings about beans and cheese keep him from joining the rest of us for Mexican food, that he doesn’t like soups or stews or any meal, really, involving several foods cooked together.

So I was kind of stunned the other night at dinner when Ben said, “Remember that lasagna you used to make? With chard? I think I would eat that again.” And so I promised to make it for him the very next day. This afternoon after school, Eli and I harvested the chard from our backyard, and then it was quick work to turn it into this fabulous dish from Deborah Madison’s wonderful cookbook, Local Flavors:

1 cup walnuts
2-3 bunches chard, leaves only (save the stems and toss them into a potato gratin or something)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the dish
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan
8 oz (about 2 cups) fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (divided)
1 1/4 cup milk
8 oz lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 400. While it’s warming, put the walnuts in to toast. Give them 7-10 minutes, until they are nice and fragrant, then chop finely and set aside.

Cook chard leaves in a large pot with a couple cups of water till tender, about 5 minutes. Scoop chard into colander, press out most of the water, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Chop chard finely.

Heat oil in a wide skillet and add 2 cloves of garlic, then chard. Cook over medium-high heat, turning frequently, for several minutes, then add wine and allow to cook down. Turn off heat.

Combine ricotta, parmesan, 6 ounces of the grated mozzarella, and remaining garlic in a bowl. Stir in 1/3 cup of the chard water, then add chard. Mix, and season with salt & pepper.

Lightly oil a 9×13″ baking dish. Drizzle 1/4 cup of milk into the dish (it won’t spread evenly because of the oil but that’s ok). Fit 3 pieces of uncooked (really, it’ll work just fine) lasagna noodles into baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of milk, 1/3 of the cheese mixture, and 1/4 cup of walnuts. Repeat twice more with pasta, milk, cheese mix and nuts. When you get to the last layer, add the remaining milk, mozzarella, and walnuts.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer, or till lightly browned.

Let rest 10 minutes before serving.