Thursday, May 10, 2012

Savage Soupage

I also like the sound of potage sauvage, but I'm trying to wean myself from always running to the French.  That one will go in the title pantry, though, and I'm sure it will find its way out.  This is one of the most foraged dishes I've ever made, although, wild as it is, it did not require a lot of foraging far afield.  Indeed, much of it--morels, nettles, dandelion greens--came from our yard or near outskirts.

We had a nice, surprising fruiting of morels twenty feet from the house, near some cottonwoods.  Stinging nettles encroach at every edge of the yard, and our dandelion crop is amazing--not just the sheer number of plants, but the size of the leaves, and their mildness.  I haven't done enough with them this year.

As I was putting this soup together I worried that it might turn out to be a bit challenging, might lean toward the medicinal or excessively "healthy" side.  Ramps, nettles, dandelion greens, and fiddleheads all have distinctive flavors, which I had never tried to incorporate in one recipe before.  The morels were there to lend their musky mellowness, modulate the highs (bitter dandelions) and lows (earthy fiddleheads); and then, there's just the magic of soup--and of cream (which I may have mentioned recently...).  I needn't have worried, not a bit.  This weedy wild soupage was far more comforting than challenging, though the textures of all the wild greens still intrigued.  A garnish of dandelion petals brightened things up and removed at least one of those darned weeds from my yard.   One down, 600 trillion to go....

Stinging nettle tips left, wood nettles right.

A big part of the greenery in the soup was wood nettles, the lesser known cousin (sort of) of stinging nettles. These are at a lovely size in our woods now, and not terribly threatening, yet.  I'll have more to say about these in my next dispatch.

I had some cress I could have thrown in, but with four kinds of greens already, I refrained.  I cooked up some wild rice, thinking I might need something to give the soup more body, but there was no room for it, and it would have diluted this full-on forager's feast.

Savage Soupage
serves four

6 ostrich fern fiddleheads, each with about 6 inches of stalk, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 good handful of nice big dandelion greens, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chopped ramp bulbs and stems
Greens from the ramps, sliced
3 ounces fresh morels
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking fat--butter, bacon or duck fat, or olive oil
4 cups (loosely packed) young wood nettles
1 1/2 cups (loosely packed) stinging nettle tips
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup heavy cream

Blanch the fiddleheads in salted boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and refresh in ice water.  If your dandelion greens seem quite bitter, blanch them for 1 minute, drain and refresh, and drain well.

Chop most of the morels, reserving a couple of caps to cut in rings and fry for garnish.  In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the cooking fat and add the ramp bulbs and stems.  Sauté for a minute or two, until they start to shrink a bit, then add the morels and a good pinch of salt.  Cook until the morels shrink and start to brown a bit, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the dandelion greens and stir them in for a minute.  Add the wood nettles and ramp tops (save a bit of the greens for garnish) and stir to wilt them.  Add the stock and a couple of pinches of salt.   Add the stinging nettle tips and fiddleheads.  Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  Simmer, partly covered, for 20 minutes.  Add the cream and taste for salt.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Just before serving, fry the reserved rings of morel caps in a bit of butter until browned.  Garnish the soup with these, a few bits of ramp greens, and some dandelion petals, if you like.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw


minneville said...

Learning a lot from you posts. Dandelion is the cloest for me to get to the "wild." They are everywhere in my backyard! The other day I made scallion and dandelion pancake as breakfast. Also sauteed it with salted pork once. Still they taste bitter to me, but bittersweet!

Gloria Goodwin Raheja said...

This sounds great, wish I had some ramps. Last night I did however make your smoked trout and wild rice chowder for the second time, the recipe from your book. I made it exactly as you instructed, and it's delicious.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Tina: Thanks for checking in, and I am delighted to have been of service! With your background in Asian cooking, you surely know that bitter isn't always bad. And Americans are getting a taste for that pleasant bite through the many Asian greens available now at farmers markets. If the dandelion greens are a little too bitter, that can be mellowed by a quick blanch in boiling water--that is, if you're planning to cook them anyway; blanched greens would not look very nice in a salad...! Bitter greens and salted pork sounds great.

Gloria, the ramps in our local woods are still looking pretty good. I need to get out and dig me a mess of them while I still can. Thanks for the report on the soup success--I'm always very happy to hear that one of my recipes has contributed to a pleasant repast.

Best~ Brett

angie said...

You had that many morels under a cottonwood?!? Wow....

What a delicious looking dish.

Martha said...

Beautiful photos, Brett. I hope your trip in to Mpls went well yesterday.

Trout Caviar said...

Hey Angie: We got our WI licenses, and plates for the cars. A momentous day! Hope your move has gone well. Needless to say, I was not expecting to find our backyard full of morels. I could take that as a sign, but I'm withholding judgment until we see if there are chanterelles on our hills.

Thanks, Martha. Shoot beautiful subjects in a beautiful place, you can get some pretty pictures.

Cheers~ Brett

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

A backyard full of morels in your new home. What a good omen.

Terribly disappointing year for morels here: bone-dry winter, summery hot March. Rain and more reasonable temperature not until late April -- and then no time to hunt.

PS - The soupage looks very good.

Jennifer said...

So many people having been posting about cooking ostrich fern fiddleheads that I went out and bought six plants at a plant sale recently and added them to my yard.

However at the sale I noticed they had a poisonous symbol on the plant description tag. Is it possible they were mistaken, or are there a couple different plants with the same common name? The ones I got are Matteuccia struthiopteris, and the wikipedia page for that species also refers to edible fiddleheads.

I'm thinking the plant sale people were wrong, yes?

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Jennifer: The ferns probably had the poisonous symbol because they are edible only in the fiddlehead stage. Perhaps also because over the years there have been reports (not terribly credible, according to Sam Thayer)of illnesses attributed to eating ostrich fiddleheads. Thayer thinks the ferns were probably misidentified, and he cites a couple of wild food field guides that confuse ostrich, interrupted, and cinnamon fern. They are really pretty easy to tell apart, as ostrich ferns have that distinct celery-like groove up the stem. M. struthiopteris is indeed ostrich fern, so next spring you should be able to harvest some fiddleheads.

Best~ Brett