Silver beet and potato smash – a childhood recipe

Since my father passed away in March this year, my brother in law Chris has been holding the fort in what was my father’s vegetable garden. He has been planting all the vegetables and herbs that my father used to have, plus a few more varieties (broad beans, eggplant). In between his visits to my mother’s house, she has been watering and tending what was once solely my father’s domain. A strong memory for me is papa’ working in the garden, wearing his checked shirt and waving to all the neighbors who beeped their horns as they drove by.

A few months ago, I planted a punnet of rainbow chard that Chris had bought but not got around to planting. It felt quite strange working in dad’s garden. When he was unwell last year, he would sit on the terrace whilst I was picking parsley or rucola (rocket) to take home, watching me and say “prendi quanto che ti vol, questo xe el tuo giardin” (take as much as you want, this is your garden too). I have many memories of him proudly presenting the family with armfuls of tomatoes, radicchio, garlic and so much more. It felt very special for me to be planting those seedlings in his vegetable garden.

Well how they grew! This is in spite of the fact that Minna, the ginger cat took a liking them and alternated between trying to dig them up and lying on them. My mother concocted a way to keep Minna away – she surrounded the growing vegetables with thick slices of garlic. Well that seemed to do the trick for a few weeks at least until the rainbow chard could stand Minna’s feline assaults.

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So last week the time arrived to pick some leaves – I picked around ten of the largest outer leaves, took them home and put them in a glass jar filled with water on the kitchen bench. They were plump, green and gorgeous with red, yellow and creamy stems. I thought that it would be fitting to make a favorite childhood recipe with them, loved by papa’ – my mother’s erbete con le patate. We would eat this when I was growing up as a side dish with fish, chicken or steak. It is smashed potatoes with a bit of a green twist. I varied it from mamma‘s simple recipe by substituting silver beet with rainbow chard (they are very similar anyway), grated in some parmigiano cheese and some lemon zest at the end. It is still very simple and delicious, especially because the greens were so tasty, fresh and completely chemical free. I think papa’ would have loved them.

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Silver beet with smashed potatoes
serves 4 as a side dish
Silver beet (or rainbow chard), 1 bunch
3 potatoes, medium sized potatoes (I used Desiree’)
Garlic, one large clove, finely chopped
Parmigiano, one handful to taste, grated
Lemon zest, grated, to taste
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Put the washed, whole potatoes in a pot of boiling water and cook until tender (around 30 minutes).

To prepare the silver beet – remove the spines, roughly chop the leaves and rinse them well, especially if it is not organic, to remove any chemical sprays. Plunge the leaves in the boiling water in which you are cooking the potatoes. Leave them in with the potatoes for a few minutes and then remove with tongs (or you can use a separate pot of boiling water – I am just being water conscious!). You will need to squeeze all the excess water really well from the drained leaves at this point. Set them aside.

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In the meantime, place the garlic in a medium sized frypan, cook on medium heat until fragrant and add the drained silver beet leaves. Cook until they have heated up and are coated with the olive oil and the garlic is mixed through. Add salt and pepper to taste. You should only need to cook the greens about 5 minutes before adding the potatoes. If the potatoes aren’t quite ready, just turn the heat on the frypan to very low and stir every now and then.

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Drain the cooked potatoes, peel and chop them into smallish pieces. It is fine is some of the potatoes become mashed and some pieces are soft potato cubes – this texture is what you are aiming for. Place the potatoes back in the medium sized saucepan, add the cooked silver beet and stir through so it is all mixed evenly. Add more salt and pepper if needed, the parmigiano and if you like, some lemon zest. Stir through and serve as a side dish with your favorite meat or fish. Drizzle on some more extra virgin olive oil if needed.

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19 comments on “Silver beet and potato smash – a childhood recipe

  1. Paola, I too have memories of growing up with this dish and of dad growing the erbete. Well, we are sisters after all! I have been staying with friends recently while between houses and i cooked erbete con le patate on Thursday night for the family. I admit I took a few of your Swiss chard leaves to augment the rather puny bunch of silverbeet I had bought at the market. I’d had a request from 12yo Mary for this dish, which I’d made for her once before and which she loved. She had two large helpings and kept on dipping the spoon into the leftovers and having just a little bit more. So the recipe lives on, albeit with the addition of a chopped shallot or two, which I add to the garlic. Oh, and we now call the dish the highly prosaic name Old Socks, which my mother-in-law coined in jest many years ago when I gave her the recipe and she thought that the action of squeezing the water out of the erbete looked like I was wringing out some old socks. Mary will be making this recipe I’m sure (she’s already a very good cook) and it will continue to be enjoyed and loved
    Babi x

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    • Thank you for your comment Babi and i am happy you took some leaves from the garden – they belong to the whole family after all (as papa’ would have wanted). I nearly put in the comment about Old Socks! I remember that story well. X

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  2. This is what we called “patate e verdura”…the simplest and most liked way to prepare and eat the silverbeet that we too had in our dad’s backyard..and served as a side dish to whatever-meat, chicken or fried eggs!!! All of my children,nieces and nephews too learnt to eat this fabulous dish as youngesters and still request it!! Lovely memories for all of us!!!

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    • Grazie for visiting my blog Elena. Lovely that you share a similar memory, even thought had a slightly different name, clearly loved by all. I think it was a way to get the children to eat green leafy vegetables – hidden with potato mash! And it worked!!

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  3. what a lovely post this was to read and so lovely that your father’s vegetable garden continues to be tended to by his family , my father has been very unwell over the last month and is still in hospital at the moment , he is almost 83 and has worked very hard all his life , he hates being in hospital and longs to be home with his beloved Margie ( mum) .. we thought we were going to lose him at one stage but he has rallied and made an amazing recovery , he is a very tough man but with a very gentle heart , your post really made me stop and think how lucky we are to still have him with us and on this glorious spring day when there are so many things i want to get done i am going to instead head back to the hospital for another visit , thankyou Paola . .

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  4. My father passed away this May and the last couple of years he busily planted lots of fruit trees that we didn’t think he would live to see fruit. Well the quince tree now has heaps of fruit, as does the apricot tree. So we are very glad he planted them and, of course, they are his legacy, a reminder of his life.

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    • So sorry to hear about your father, it is a sad time of our lives when we lose our fathers. However it is wonderful that he planted those trees, that produce fruit and enable him to keep giving to his family. That is really special.

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  5. Dear Paula, what an amazing photograph of your father. It manifests inner strength of character and I really enjoyed the way your father tended the vegetable patch with such care and devotion. I love this European tradition, and no wonder you’re such a great cook. I’m sure it’s about the whole experience and cherished memories of your father that you hold dear. May God bless him in every way. I only met him once but loved his character.

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  6. Hi Paula, it was rather moving reading all the comments about your recipe and the emotions it evoked in those who read it and replied. I am also very familiar with this type of ‘bietola e patate’ recipe which I had growing up.The stories have made me value even more my 83 yr old Dad who still is always offering produce from his garden. Keep up the traditions and hang on to the memories!

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    • Dear Lena thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment- they make blogging worthwhile. Glad to hear your dad is still with you and you can enjoy the produce – I bet he loves sharing it with his family. Ciao

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    • hello
      This is so nice i have made it. I was looking to use up a lot in our garden. So thank you.
      I added some soft white fish flaked into the mash mix with the silverbeet worked a treat.
      Thank you for this warm lovely family recipe.
      cheers
      John

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  7. Thanks so much for this recipe. For ages I’ve been looking for a recipe to use leftover silverbeet. Most silverbeet recipes taste really bitter. This recipe was sweet and tasty and easy to make.

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