Having had such a wonderful time foraging for edible greens with Pascal Baudar on Friday morning, I was determined to make something special with what I had collected. As an absolute newcomer to the practice of wild food, I focused on gathering a small amount of almost everything that we saw. At one level this was a satisfactory tactic. I’ve enjoyed being at home looking at it all again, consulting my photographs and field notes (actually just hastily scrawled reminders), and reacquainting myself with what we were taught. When I do this again – and I’m sure that I will – I’m pretty confident now that I’ve got a sense of the basic points of identification, as well as the difference between palatability and edibility. But at another level, when you’re used to shopping at markets where it’s straight-forward to select a specified amount of any individual ingredient, having restricted quantities means that an obvious use for it all can be – at least initially – less forthcoming.
After some thought, it seemed like soup – based on a mixture of both watercress and nettle – was a good idea. I felt it was important to keep things simple, but I did add onion and garlic as well as a vegetable stock cube. As a result of my limited materials I made a relatively small amount (based on about 3 ½ cups of stock), and the intense flavours of the fresh ingredients ensured both an incredible aroma and a wonderful taste. I even used some torn lamb’s quarter leaves as a garnish. It is a notably basic recipe (included below), but I was very pleased with the overall result. I also found that I didn’t need to add any seasoning – the stock cube contained enough salt, and the watercress was superbly peppery. I do have one caution…Even though I made this soup the day after I picked the nettles, they were still able to deliver a pretty convincing sting and my fingers remain ever so slightly numb as I’m typing this today!
However, delighted as I am by the success of my soup, I’m totally enthralled by my next project. Inspired by Pascal, I’m in the process of curing a duck breast to make prosciutto infused with the aromatic California sagebrush. Using a fresh duck breast (skin on), I washed and dried it before placing it in a shallow dish into which I had already poured a thick layer of sea salt. I then added yet more salt to cover the meat, and have wrapped the dish in plastic where it needs to sit in the fridge for 24 hours before beginning the next stage. I’ve experimented with curing fish before, but have never attempted it with meat. I can’t wait to see – and taste – how it works out.
Recipe: Nettle and Watercress Soup
1 small onion – diced
2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
3 ½ cups of vegetable stock
A medium bunch of washed watercress and nettles – any large or thick stems removed
Fresh wild greens to garnish
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan. Add the onion and garlic, frying gently for 5-10 minutes until they are softening. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, add the nettles to the pan and simmer for approximately 5 minutes before adding the watercress. Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes until the greens are tender. Allow to cool slightly before blending. Heat through before serving, garnished with some roughly torn wild green leaves.