Why It Works
- All of the work can be done well ahead of time, making this casserole an ideal dish to prepare for the holidays or any large dinner party.
- The lower butterfat content of half-and-half allows the natural flavor of the greens to come through a bit better than with the masking qualities of true heavy cream.
- Fennel sautéed until it nearly disappears into the background, adding a subtle aniseed aroma to the dish without overwhelming it.
Casseroles are the real secret to a good home cook's Thanksgiving (or any large dinner party) success. All of the work is done ahead of time—in most cases you can prepare them over a day in advance—which means that they bake off right alongside the turkey, or even while the turkey is resting (you do rest your turkey after roasting, right?).
The best casseroles combine flavors that complement each other when they inevitably meld into one, and textures that don't suffer from extended cooking. Creamed vegetables are always a good choice.
For this casserole, I cook down chard as if I were making creamed spinach. That is, start by sweating aromatics like onions and garlic in butter until soft, then add in the leaves and cook until they're completely wilted. I used to make my creamed greens with actual cream, but I've recently switched over to half-and-half thickened with a little bit of flour. The lower butterfat content of half-and-half allows the natural flavor of the greens to come through a bit better than with the masking qualities of true heavy cream.
Besides, with all the heavy dishes and big flavors of Thanksgiving, who really wants that extra butterfat anyway?
I've gotta admit: I'm not the biggest fan of fennel. I don't really like it shaved raw in salads, I don't like large braised bulbs of it, I don't particularly like it roasted or sautéed as a side dish. But I do like using it the same way I would onions—that is, sautéed until it nearly disappears into the background, adding a subtly aniseed aroma to the dish without overwhelming it.
Finally, white beans add body and textural contrast to the finished casserole. You can serve it topping-less, but who doesn't like a crunchy layer of cheesy breadcrumbs? Who? Find that person and disinvite them from Thanksgiving next year unless they vow to mend their ways.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large bulb fennel, cored, and sliced thin (about 3 cups)
1 large onion, sliced thin (about 1 1/2 cups)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
3 bunches Swiss chard (about 1 pound), leaves removed, tender stems sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 ounces finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (about 1 cup)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauce pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add fennel and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes, reducing heat if it starts to brown. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add 1/3 of Swiss chard and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 1 minute. Repeat with remaining Swiss chard in 2 more batches. Add nutmeg and flour and stir to combine. Add half-and-half, stir to combine, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Add beans and reduce to a bare simmer. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Toss breadcrumbs, butter, and cheese in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Season filling with salt and pepper, transfer to a large baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake until golden brown on top and bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest about 10 minutes, and serve.
13- by 9-inch baking dish
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 12g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||36%|
|Total Carbohydrate 26g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||20%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 13mg||67%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|