During summer visits to my French grandparents when I was little, I’d always get excited when my grandfather brought in a big bunch of silverbeet (côtes de bette) from the garden. It meant one thing: silverbeet gratin was in my future. My grandmother wasn’t exactly an imaginative cook, but in this case, that was absolutely fine by me. Silverbeet gratin is one of my favourite childhood food memories. Perhaps because we only ever got to eat it once or twice a year – silverbeet wasn’t available in any of the countries I grew up in – and that made it magical to little Mel. By the way, this is what I mean by silverbeet:
I think it’s similar to what is called chard in the UK, but I’m not convinced that it’s exactly the same thing. When my grandmother was no longer able to cook for herself, my yearly summer silverbeet gratin treat was suddenly restricted to my memory. Until I moved to NZ last year and discovered that silverbeet exists here. I was embarrassingly excited about it and promptly made silverbeet gratin. And proceeded to make one a week for about a month. Just because I could. (Balanced diet, woop!)
To be honest, this is barely a recipe – it’s literally a case of cooking the stems, mixing them into a béchamel sauce, topping the whole thing off with cheese and grilling it until bubbly and golden. Boom, simple as. The recipe quantities are more guidelines than set in stone. I never usually measure anything out when I make a béchamel, so doing so to write up the recipe was a bit of a novel experience. I apologise for the slightly uninspiring photos by the way – I was more focused on actually eating the gratin.
Serves 2-3 as a light meal, 3-4 as a side dish
Recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves
Although the silverbeet leaves aren’t used in this recipe, don’t throw them out – they work interchangeably with spinach in many recipes (although be warned that they are slightly more bitter). Comté cheese is the best cheese to use, but if you can’t get it (or it’s prohibitively expensive), gruyère will also do the trick. The gratin can be served as a side dish alongside meat, or by itself as a light meal, accompanied by a side salad.
1 bunch silverbeet (about 900g)
½ lemon (optional, helps prevent slight browning)
For the béchamel:
50g unsalted butter
2-3 heaped tbsp all-purpose flour
200-250ml whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground nutmeg
150g comté or gruyère
1. Wash the silverbeet, trim the leaves from the stalks (you won’t need the leaves, but keep them as they can be used for other things). Slice the stalks into 1-1.5 cm slices.
2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the silverbeet slices and the juice of the half lemon. Cook for about 20 mins, until a knife point easily slides into the stalks.
To prepare the béchamel:
3. Pre-heat the oven to a hot grill setting.
4. Meanwhile, make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add 2 heaped tbsp of flour and stir until smooth. Add more if necessary, but a little at a time, ensuring that it remains smooth. Stir in the milk about 50ml at a time, constantly stirring and allowing the sauce to thicken before adding more. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and the nutmeg.
5. Drain the silverbeet, and add to the béchamel sauce (or add the sauce to the silverbeet, depending on the size of your saucepans) and stir together. Pour into an ovenproof dish, and top with grated comté or gruyère. Grill until the cheese is melted and browning. Serve immediately.