Small Clever Rooms
Foraged & Found CSA: Week 1
I signed up for a six-week CSACommunity Supported Agriculture, basically a delivery service for getting produce from a local farm. Typically a CSA will deliver to a local drop point for you to pick up, rather than straight to you.
with Foraged and Found Edibles on something of a whim: it looked interesting and, based on a preview of the foods I’d be getting, like a fun cooking challenge to try to figure out how to use a bunch of stuff I’d rarely if ever cooked with or even eaten before. Then I decided, why not blog about the ingredients and what I made with them too. Week one went a little something like this:
I was rather excited about these — they seem like sort of an entry-level Slightly Frightening Food ItemFor more examples of this category of food, none of which I have tried, see (with caution): huitlacoche, ortolan, casu marzu. I’d like to try huitlacoche sometime. The other two, not so much.
which is intriguing to the culinarily adventurous. A vegetable that you can’t touch with your bare hands until after you boil it? Sign me up!
I decided to make a simple cream of nettle soup, as a way to get a relatively pure sense of what nettles actually taste like; this will be a pretty common recurring train of thought in these (hopefully) six posts.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. The nettles had a weird bitterness to them that made it difficult to tell how salty the soup was, and as a result I ended up oversalting it. Also it turns out I don’t care for the actual flavor of nettles enough for the “pure” treatment to work for me. I managed to make it through a couple bowls with the help of some plain saltines, but I wasn’t going to want to eat a half gallon of it.
Fortunately I am an enterprising reuser of leftovers, so half the remaining soup replaced the cream of mushroom in a chicken and rice casserole (based on the Joy of Cooking recipe), and the other half became the substrate for a chicken pot pie. Both results were considerably more enjoyable to eat than the soup, though also considerably more comfort-food-y. I guess the lesson was that I prefer nettles in lower concentrations: while they didn’t end up being particularly discernible in the pot pie, they did lend a nice complexity to the otherwise very boring casserole.
I prepared this “hen of the woods” mushroom simply, using just the mushrooms part of this Bon Appetit recipe, and served it over polenta brought to a boil in the Instant Pot and then slow-cooked for a few hours. I used some of the liquid from blanching the nettles in the polenta, and also dumped a ton of pecorino, parmesan and black pepper in there for a slightly cacio e pepe-esque flavor.
The result was probably the most immediately crowd-pleasing of this week’s fresh offerings. The mushrooms turned out very nicely crispy, though they did crumble into smaller pieces more easily than I preferred and ended up without the incredibly appetizing, slightly caramelized look the one in the recipe’s photo has. The polenta was a nice pairing, nothing special but suitable as a vehicle. But the flavor of the mushrooms also wasn’t super unique: a little more “mushroom-y” than your standard cremini but not especially striking. Overall, a success, but not a difficult one to achieve.
Bronze Fennel Fronds
I’m gonna level with you: to me, these were indistinguishable from the fronds on “non-bronze” fennel I’d previously acquired from farmer’s markets and non-foraged CSAs. That said, thanks to the lovely guide in J. Kenji López-Alt’s instant classic The Food Lab, I now know you can make pesto out of just about any damn thing, and the pesto I made with these bronze fronds was a hit. If I found myself with extra fronds, bronze or non-, in the future, I’d probably try this version with anchovies because anchovies are incredible.
Wild Mushroom Powder
I haven’t used this yet, because it’s shelf stable and I’m on the “CSA treadmill” now so I need to prioritize the sometimes very perishable fresh produce that I signed up to have foisted upon me. If I use it in a later week I’ll mention it.
My primary concern with the wild ginger, which was appetizingly named but looked like a pile of roughage you’d get after weeding your garden, was to extract the flavor without having to chew on a root. I turned to one of my favorite methods for extracting flavor from things without having to think or work hard, and made a syrup out of itMy recipe for making syrup out of whatever: Cut the whatever into smallish pieces. Put it in a 1:1 mix of sugar and water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer forever or until you don’t want to anymore, topping up with water as necessary to prevent it from getting too thick.
. And it’s a good thing that I decided not to work hard on the syrup itself, because cleaning the dirt off these little bastards was a recipe’s worth of work in itself. I did so as well as I could and cut the roots into like quarter-inch pieces for the syrup.
Syrup is not really a dish per se, so I used it to make some granola: also an appropriate avenue for the shriveled little candied wild ginger bits I strained out from the finished syrup. The granola turned out very good, but I’m not sure how much of that was because of the syrup, which has a slightly earthy, very mild ginger flavor. All in all, a good result, but not one that particularly showcased the uniqueness of the ingredient. But I do have some syrup left.
The fiddlehead ferns were enticingly weird-looking but tied with wild ginger for the biggest nuisance of week 1: they were fairly festooned with motes of brown chaff that at least one recipe instructed me to wash away but that were embedded in the curly vegetables so deeply that neither a rinse nor a soak sufficed.
So that was a nuisance, and the flavor didn’t justify the effort for me. I pickled some of them and haven’t tried them yet — so stay tuned for week 2 — but the rest I just sautéed with butter and a bit of garlic and they were… fine. A bit like asparagus but kind of more bitter. I think they’d be worth trying in a recipe that calls for asparagus but by themselves they were nothing special.
I don’t want to call anything a “loser” because it’s likely I just didn’t use it correctly on my very first try. But the winners this week were, in no order:
- Maitake mushrooms, though they weren’t especially unusual
- Bronze fennel frond pesto, though it wasn’t especially different from normal fennel
- Wild ginger granola, though it didn’t taste especially strongly of wild ginger
Lots of caveats, but I didn’t feel I made anything that was both extremely good and captured its signature ingredient’s uniqueness well. That’s what I’ll be striving for over these six weeks.