March 12, 2010

Add Swiss chard and sardines to your 'healthiest' foods lineup

— Picking up where we left off two weeks ago, we continue to feature recipes highlighting ingredients from the ''Healthiest Foods You Aren't Eating'' list published a while back in the New York Times.

This list includes Swiss chard, which, says nutritionist Jonny Bowden, is packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.

Chard is nice because it's quite readily available, but all dark leafy greens contain the same properties, so you can use kale, escarole, beet greens or collard greens just about interchangeably. (Mostly, it comes down to regional and cultural preferences, but they all taste quite similar.)

CHICKPEA SOUP WITH TOMATOES AND GREENS

This is one of my favorite soups, made primarily with pantry staples but enlivened with the freshness of the greens.

Makes four main-course servings.

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

7 cups vegetable or chicken broth or broth and water

4 cups drained cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1 cup chopped plum tomatoes, fresh or canned

4 cups chopped Swiss chard leaves and stems

3/4 cup small pasta such as ditalini, preferably whole wheat

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons crumbled and dried

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

About ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, to blend flavors. Add chard, pasta, sage and pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, until pasta is just tender and chard is cooked, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Ladle into bowls and pass cheese for sprinkling over.

Bowden calls sardines ''health food in a can.'' They are high in omega-3s, contain virtually no mercury, and are loaded with calcium as well as other important minerals and the full complement of B vitamins.

SARDINE PASTA WITH FRESH PARSLEY

This dish is just absolutely, irresistibly edible, and again, most of the ingredients are usually at hand. Try it when you thought you didn't have anything to make for dinner.

Makes four servings.

1 pound thin-strand pasta such as linguine or spaghetti

3 tablespoons drained oil from 2 (33/4 -ounce) cans small sardines

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 cup bottled clam juice

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whole sardines from cans (above)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lemon, cut in 8 wedges

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain into a colander.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat sardine oil and olive oil. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in pepper flakes.

Add clam juice and wine, bring to a boil, and cook briskly uncovered until slightly reduced, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and butter, swirling until it melts.

On a serving platter, toss about two-thirds of the sauce with the hot pasta. Arrange sardines over pasta, spoon remaining sauce over, and serve.

At the table, pass salt and pepper for a final seasoning, along with the lemon wedges and grated Parmesan, if desired.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently ''The New England Clam Shack Cookbook'' (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.

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