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Apr 21

Foraged food – failures and fulfillment

I’ve a mixed track record of cooking foraged food. The mussels and periwinkles we plucked from the west coast of Ireland were some way short of the sumptuous specimens you’d find in a fishmongers, but nobody fell ill. I’m calling that a qualified success.

A similar term fits my initial forays into cooking with seaweed. Kelp went in with the periwinkles but I’d struggle to say what difference it made. Same goes for ‘Lentils and Vegetables with Kombu a Modern Fusion Recipe,’ which is a fancy name for an almost unspeakably bland stew. Kelp might have sped up the lentil cooking time, but it did bugger all for the taste.

Undeterred, I sought out some Irish Moss and set about trying to make a pudding. There are loads of recipes for puddings that use Irish Moss, also called carrageen, as a thickening agent. Either I picked a dud, or somewhere along the line I ballsed it up royally. Here’s a side by side comparison of what I was aiming for, and what mine looked like around the time I realised things were going horribly wrong.

When good puds go bad

I’d like to say it got better. It didn’t. Left in the fridge overnight to set, it was still stubbornly fluid 24-hours later. The only notable change was the formation of a layer of something at the bottom. Mel asked if it was polenta. It wasn’t. The alchemy that created this unholy ground cornmeal-like substance is beyond me. Needless to say, the suspicious polenta-like lumps did little to enliven the weakly flavoured citrus slop.

Someone more inclined to cook their own dinners less understanding than Mel would probably have banned me from the kitchen after the pudding fiasco. She didn’t though, so now we’re in France I’m free to faff about with nettle recipes. As with the seaweed, the process of foraging nettles is actually rather wonderful. I guess it taps into something primal. And with long sleeves and marigolds was a sting-free experience.

It took about half an hour, just taking the top four to six leaves, to gather 270g for my nettle pesto. And it was pretty easy to knock together too. I based it on this recipe, substituting foraged walnuts for pine nuts. On pasta, the pesto was nice but nothing special. Much better results came from spreading it on a bit of toast to make a sort of nettle pesto crostini.

Nettle Pesto Crostini

The best use of nettles I’ve found is a soup though. This soup, from the man Mel calls Mr Toadstool, to be precise. It’s quick, simple and uses widely available ingredients – a boon when living in rural France.

The pesto and soup are good enough that I can’t imagine letting the burst of spring nettles pass without picking a few. And I’ve not even tried this yet. Mr Toadstool says March and April are the best months for nettles,  in the UK at least. So it you’re curious, now’s the time to don the marigolds.

Foraged Nettle Soup

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2 Comments

  1. Pat( mum)

    April 21, 2013

    Reply

    We have plenty of nettles in the garden, you can give it a go in June.

    • Mel

      May 9, 2013

      Reply

      Don’t worry, he will! xx

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