Work-related travel may be necessary, but it’s far from fun.
Hotels rooms blur together in a cloud of mediocre sameness. Long meetings in new time zones keep life off-kilter and make it extraordinarily difficult to explore the terrain.
I’ve worked in jobs where too much business travel was unavoidable. For self-preservation, I began introducing an element of pleasure into each dreary trip by finding an exciting restaurant to visit.
In Boston, this is how I discovered Hamersley’s Bistro. Hamersley’s has one of those menus where you want to order everything. The chef specializes in imaginative preparations of seasonally fresh vegetables.
I ignored the entrees and ordered a mixture of appetizers and vegetable side dishes. I ate slowly, savoring each bite, and left the restaurant invigorated and momentarily happy for the chance to travel, even on business.
Shortly after I first ate at Hamersley’s, its owner, Gordon Hamersley, published a cookbook, Bistro Cooking at Home. I bought it immediately, and was glad I did. Although they have complex flavors, Hamersley’s dishes are easy to make, use readily available ingredients, and are consistently delicious.
Last night I made a version of Hamersley’s Artichoke and Swiss Chard Gratin. The gratin’s cream, which I rarely use, blends nicely with the vegetables’ earthy flavors to form a delicious sauce.
Hamersley makes his gratin with fresh artichokes. I substituted frozen artichoke quarters. Using fresh artichokes just for the hearts requires too much time and effort (and costs too much) for a mid-week meal. I'd rather save fresh artichokes for uses that let me enjoy the delicious leaves, which too often are tossed when fresh artichokes are used for their hearts.
Serves 4 – 6
Adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley (Broadway Books 2003)
Spinach, nettles, poppies, or other mild-flavored greens may be substituted for the Swiss chard. Salting vegetables as they cook brings out their flavor in a way that salting only at the end can’t achieve. For this reason, small amounts of salt are added as each vegetable cooks; be careful not to fully salt each ingredient or the finished gratin will be too salty.
5 – 6 whole Swiss chard leaves (1 bunch), or any other mild-flavored greens, wild or domestic
12 ounces frozen artichoke quarters, thawed
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Wash the chard leaves and shake off the excess water (do not dry). Separate the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems into 1/2” dice and roughly chop the leaves; keep the stems and leaves separate.
Sauté the thawed artichoke quarters, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until they are lightly browned. Place the artichokes in a large bowl.
In the same pan, sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and fresh thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add the onions to the bowl with the artichoke hearts.
In the same pan, sauté the Swiss chard stems, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. olive oil for 5 minutes. Stir in the leaves, and cook until the stems and leaves are tender and any liquid in the pan has evaporated. Add the chard to the bowl with the other ingredients and toss to combine.
Oil a 9” x 9” baking pan (or 10” x 10” pan or 1 1/2 quart gratin dish). Spread the vegetables in the pan, pour the cream evenly over, and top with the grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Raise the heat to 425°F and bake for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the cheese topping is nicely browned. Serve immediately.