“The main dish may take center stage, but don’t keep your side dishes on the sidelines,” reads the conclusion of America’s Test Kitchen voluminous cookbook on side dishes.

Cover courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

So true. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a barbecue restaurant in New England (almost all mediocre) and felt that the meat was overshadowed by some real good mac and cheese or wilted greens.

The promise of America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Side Dish Bible” is that those ancillary plates will grab the attention at your family dinner, holiday party or potluck.

But clocking in at more than 500 pages, I found the “Bible” unwieldy and unhelpful. There were simply too many choices for me to select a good pairing for a meal. I kept (and keep) flipping through its pages, trying to find a dish that is easy to make, and has ingredients I already have in my pantry. Because honestly, who wants to spend a lot of time and effort making a side dish when you have the main to worry about?

That’s my main criticism about “The Side Dish Bible” – a lot of it is complicated, ingredient-heavy, and … boring. I like everything in here, but after the labor involved in any number of salads, casseroles and grain dishes, I’m exhausted, and the main course will be another rough peak to climb.

I want to make clear that I really, really like America’s Test Kitchen. I own a bunch of the company’s cookbooks, and I use them a lot. But this one seems fated to be a brick that sits in my bookcase and collects dust.

Except … my lovely, smart life partner has a different opinion. Although she doesn’t like to cook as much as I do, she loves food just as much. Her take is that “The Side Dish Bible” offers so many options to dazzle folks at the next picnic or holiday potluck we attend. She’s right in this regard – with more than 1,000 Test-Kitchen-tested recipes, we’re bound to bring something that turns heads.

That brings me to Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin. I happily had almost all the ingredients needed and the dish came together really nicely. I thinly sliced the sweet potatoes in the afternoon and finished the prep work just before dinner. Maybe that’s missing the point of “The Side Dish Bible,” but we treated the gratin like a main course, paired with a nice bottle of wine and a side salad. My version used kale combined with Swiss chard, because the supermarket (thanks for nothing Hannaford) had just one chard bunch left.

Oh! After all my complaining and nitpicking, this dish was really good – savory, sweet and salty, just about everything you want from a side dish.

Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Side Dish Bible.”

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 shallots, minced

2 tsp table salt, divided

2 pounds Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into 1/2 inch strips

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp minced fresh thyme

3/4 tsp pepper

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup dry white wine

3 pounds sweet potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick

2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shallots and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in chard and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then transfer to bowl.

Add cream, water, wine and remaining 1 teaspoon salt to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove pot from heat and keep warm.

Shingle half of the sweet potatoes into a 3-quart dish (or 13-by-19 baking dish). Spread wilted chard mixture evenly over potatoes, then shingle remaining potatoes over top. Pour cream mixture evenly over top and sprinkle with Parmesan (gratin can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until gratin is golden and feels tender when poked with a paring knife, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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