Recipe: My (now-famous) Swiss Chard Risotto (and a magazine photo shoot)

Things got pretty exciting around the old suburban homestead last week. First, of course, was the mid-week launch of this website and blog. Then, on Friday, this showed up in the mail:

Our Iowa magazine

It’s the August/September 2014 issue of Our Iowa Magazine, and look who’s featured inside:

Our Iowa magazine

For those of you who don’t recognize me without the cabbage head, that’s yours truly, photographed in my garden. I’m the “Featured Cook” of the August/September issue, which includes an article about how my garden inspires my cooking along with my recipe for Swiss Chard Risotto.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I already planned to post a “Meatless Monday” recipe today. And what could be a better subject for my first recipe post than my now-famous Swiss Chard Risotto?

But before we get to the recipe, I thought I’d share how the Our Iowa spread came into being as well as a behind-the-scenes look at a magazine photo shoot.

It all started a year ago last June, when I submitted a story idea about my grandmother’s Christmas pie for the magazine’s December/January issue. Although I thought I was getting a good jump on the holidays by querying six months in advance, I was told the issue already was planned. However, after some further correspondence, the editorial staff decided I had an “interesting Iowa or kitchen story to tell” and would make a good “Featured Cook” for another upcoming issue.

In September, the magazine sent a photographer (“Perry”) to my house for a half-day photo shoot. And the shoot truly took a full afternoon. We shot in the kitchen, at the stove, on the screen porch and in the garden. Perry was friendly and fun and everything I imagined a magazine photographer to be, and I felt like a model.

And now, nearly a year after the photo shoot, the magazine finally has arrived. Gosh, those editorial lead times are hard to get used to.

While I may never be part of another magazine photo shoot, I did learn a few things from the experience, just in case:

1.  There can never be enough light. My kitchen is pretty well lit, and its south-facing windows provide even more natural light during a late September afternoon. But Perry carried in so many bags and boxes of lighting equipment that I began to get concerned that maybe he was planning to move in. And he used all of it. He even used lighting for the shots out in the garden on a bright, sunny day.

2.  You really don’t need to clean much beforehand. I spent hours turning my normally messy kitchen into an immaculate show place. In fact, I spent way more time cleaning and staging the kitchen (and the screen porch and the garden) than I spent getting myself ready (and there was no hair or makeup assistance for this girl). Seriously, that kitchen was so spotless we could have eaten risotto right off the floor. But as Perry informed me after he arrived, there was no need to clean up ahead of time because most of the shots would be close-ups showing, at most, a few inches of background space, and that space could have been tidied up in a hurry once he decided where to shoot.

3.  Even though the magazine needs only a couple of photos for a story, a photographer will take hundreds. The whole experience kind of reminded me of my prior stints as a bridesmaid suffering through hours of wedding party photos until my lips were quivering from smiling so much. (My own wedding, a casual affair on a beach in the Virgin Islands, was much less camera-intensive.) But I’m pretty pleased with the two photos the magazine selected to run, although I sure wish they would have airbrushed out the wrinkles in the close-up one.

4.  Risotto doesn’t look so good after it’s been sitting out all afternoon. For the shoot, I needed to prepare a batch of risotto so Perry could get shots of me “cooking” it at the stove and of the finished dish. In reality, I prepared the risotto ahead of his arrival but left it in the pan for the fake cooking shots and then let him choose from among my dishes for plating it. But by the time he got all the lighting set up, got the fake cooking shots, and decided on the plating for the close-ups, the risotto was looking pretty rough. I tried adding more butter to revive it to its original creamy goodness, but it just wasn’t happening. The photo of the finished dish looks nothing like a plate of risotto I actually would serve:

Swiss chard risotto


And now, without further ado, the recipe:

Swiss Chard Risotto


  • 5-6 cups beef, chicken or vegetable stock (I like to use beef stock with chard to enhance the earthy flavors of the chard)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced chard stems
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped chard leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Simmer the stock in a pot over low heat. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, chard stems and mushrooms and cook until onions are soft and translucent, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and stir for 2-3 minutes until it becomes chalky in appearance. Add the wine and stir until the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Add the chard leaves and stir until they start to wilt, about 2-3 minutes. Then stir in the stock, one cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed by the rice before adding the next cup of stock. Stir continuously to keep the rice from sticking. After adding 4 cups of stock, add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time and start tasting the rice.

After about 20 minutes of cooking, when the rice is tender but still a little firm to the bite and mixture is creamy but not dry, remove from the heat and fold in the butter and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Serves 4.