Swiss chard has a permanent spot in my kitchen garden. You can plant it in just about any season in our Santa Barbara climate. I love going out to the beds and seeing those playful rainbow-colored stems peeking out of the coffee-colored mulch.

Swiss chard adds a buttery bite to so many different dishes—from winter braises to green smoothies, garden chips, and gratins. This simple sauté is a great way to incorporate chard into a variety of easy and tasty dishes. Toss this sauté with soba noodles or your short pasta of choice, stuff it in an omelet, spoon it on grilled bread, or use it as a simple side dish for roasted chicken or pork chops. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sprinkling of feta (I bet you thought my feta obsession had subsided…nope)! Feta adds a luscious pop of briny tang to the lovely buttery leaves. This is quick cooking at its finest and one of my favorite preparations.

Check out my big harvest basket.

Pasta and Garden photographed by Evan Janke.
All other images by Valerie Rice.

Orecchiette Pasta with Swiss Chard and Feta

Serves 3-4

1⁄2 pound pasta of choice, I like orecchiette

8 cups Swiss chard, stems removed, rough chop

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

1 Chile de Arbol* or 1⁄2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt

Feta cheese, crumbled for garnish

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes (depending on the type of pasta you choose). Remove 1⁄2 cup pasta cooking liquid and reserve. Drain pasta.

Prep all of your ingredients for the sauté. Place a very large sauté pan on medium-high heat and let your skillet sit on the stove for a minute and heat up.

Next, add the olive oil to the pan with the chile (or red pepper flakes) and garlic, and cook until fragrant (about one minute). Scatter chopped chard leaves on top of the hot oil. After about a minute, using tongs, turn the leaves until just wilted. Sprinkle with sea salt. Turn off the heat and continue turning with the tongs. The chard will continue to cook as you turn the leaves and release juices into the sauté pan. Add the cooked pasta, and mix to incorporate all of the flavors. Add some of the pasta water if the pasta seems dry, and finish with a generous sprinkling of feta. Toss the toasted pine nuts into the mix for added texture and flavor. Enjoy!

*CHILE DE ÁRBOL This small, thin, spicy, dried Mexican pepper is about two to three inches long and has a smoky, grassy flavor. Also known as a bird’s beak chile, it’s comparable in heat to a serrano and maintains its beautiful red color when dried. It’s easily recognized in the garden because it grows straight up from stems. Available at Mexican markets and many supermarkets.