Using chard in lasagna instead of noodles. (Barbara Damrosch )

Kale might be called the new spinach, but behind the current crispy-kale-chip fetish I can see a competitor sneaking up. I’ll bet chard will be the new kale.

You might know it as Swiss chard, but the Swiss have little to do with this ancient Mediterranean plant. Botanically, it’s a beet, but one bred for lush leaves and stems instead of big, sweet, bulbous roots. Sometimes, the leafy type is called silverbeet, on account of its broad, silvery-white stem and ribs.

Chard became a glamorous crop when varieties with brightly colored stems began turning up in gardens, not just bright red ones such as Ruby or Rhubarb but also the multicolored mixes such as Bright Lights, Rainbow and Five Color Silverbeet. But gardeners soon discovered how easy chard is to grow. Even in cool climates it can survive the winter with no protection. Leaf production might slow down or stop, but the roots are often still there in spring, only to sprout again for a quick flush of greenery before going to seed. If protected by a cold frame or unheated greenhouse, its tasty greens are even more abundant in wintertime. In our garden trials, we’ve found the variety Argentata to be the most cold-hardy.

At the same time, warm-climate gardeners find that chard will survive hot summers as well — maybe not in perfect condition — but again the roots persist and send up fresh foliage with the coming of crisp fall days. And it will not go to seed in summer the way lettuce or spinach will. Nor does it wilt as easily as spinach in hot, dry weather.

None of this would matter if chard weren’t delicious. Its mild flavor is never bitter, but it’s distinctive enough to flavor a soup, quiche or gratin. Quite apart from flashy-colored stems, which to my mind are prettier and more vivid in the garden than they are cooked and on the plate, the type of chard you grow, and how you grow it, will influence its utility in the kitchen.

First of all, the stem and the leaf can almost be considered two separate vegetables, the stem being very firm, the leaf soft and pliable. They’re great sauteed together, but the leaves must be added later, after the stems have had time to soften. They pair beautifully in a stir-fry, too, where you start with the stem for crunch, then add the leaves.

If the nutrient-rich green leaves are the more important element for you, you might prefer a type variously called narrow-stemmed chard, perpetual chard or perpetual spinach (which, of course, it is not). This is an Italian version, of which the most popular variety is Erbette. Try picking it either at baby leaf size, for salads, or at about six inches long, when it is delectable just steamed and buttered.

But don’t disparage the big, stemmy chards. Good old Fordhook Giant is a large champion plant, vigorous enough to shrug off both the cold of winter and the leaf miners that can tunnel the leaves in early summer. Slice away the stems and serve them like steamed asparagus with, say, lemon, olive oil and pine nuts. Or take the immense leaves and pretend they are the noodles in a lasagna, spreading them in a baking pan with layers of sauce and cheese in between. A dish like that could almost make a vegetable famous.

Tip of the week

Wait until late winter for the annual major pruning of rosebushes. Untidy as it is, this season’s growth will afford some extra hardiness to roses. You can reduce canes by a third to a half, but hold off until February before removing old and diseased canes and pruning stems back hard. — Adrian Higgins

Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”