Kitchen experiments take time, a luxury I didn’t have this past month until yesterday. I forgot how good it feels to get on one of my kitchen tangents and go wild cookery crazy. Plus I had a plethora of wild plants in the fridge that needed using. So I tried a couple things, some successful, some less so. This is what we dined on last night:
Italian-style Puffball Casserole
I have to laugh when I think about how many of my successful meals are the results of mistakes, and my ongoing obstinacy in learning anything proper in the kitchen. The casserole was originally supposed to be puffball parmigiana, an idea I got from Butter that in my kitchen involves slicing and breading big puffballs (Calvatia, or oversized Lycoperdon, or both in this case) with egg and breadcrumbs, frying in oil, removing to a casserole dish, topping with tomato sauce and mozzarella and baking until the cheese melts.
But I didn’t have any eggs and I didn’t know what to use to stick the fresh breadcrumbs (made from leftover bread in the food processor, mixed with dried crumbles of the wild oregano Mondarda fistulosa) to the puffball slices. After several online searches I found “eggs, buttermilk, or other liquid” as potential breadcrumb-sticking agents. But I guess olive oil doesn’t count as a liquid because all the breadcrumbs fell off after I tossed the oil-coated and breaded slices in the cooking oil. I should have known.
It was almost a total fail but then I decided to gather up those oil-covered breadcrumbs and stick them in a casserole dish all loosey goosey, with a layer of the sautéed, naked puffball slices over that, followed by more slightly-oiled but not-yet-cooked breadcrumbs, and then tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese because I didn’t have mozzarella. This I baked in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes. It turned out decadent and very good, and I was happy to help myself to seconds.
Buttered Noodles with Porcini and Pine Nut Vodka Sauce
Alongside the puffball casserole I served buttered noodles with porcini, topped with a version of my tomato-based pine nut vodka sauce. This dish was actually an attempt to use up some leftovers created by Gregg in my absence. It is apparent to me now that if I leave my fiancé alone with fresh, wild-foraged porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis), he will attempt to consume all of them.
Among the other mushroom meals he concocted, I found a container of leftover buttered spaghetti with loads of mushrooms in it. I sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top and tossed these to heat in the oven for their second go-round, cognitive of the fact that we were going wild mushroom crazy and that normally you would only eat one species in a night, but not worrying too much as we have a lot of experience with both of these species. (I certainly don’t recommend the practice of mixing wild mushrooms for beginners.)
Then I put together my wild-accented tomato sauce on the stovetop. This time it included a big can of organic tomato sauce doctored with pine nut shell infused vodka, a spoonful or less of sugar, 2 pats of butter, and some home-fermented kefir to lighten (I think cream would be the most logical choice, since kefir tastes more like sour cream. But it is what I had).
I managed to overdo the sugar while talking over my shoulder and not paying attention to what I was doing, but the flavor of the sauce came out unique and good regardless. It has even greater potential with less sugar. The porcini, of course, stood up on its own, sauce or no sauce. We are getting spoiled over here.
Sautéed Bluebell Leaves
I needed a green side dish and I had an overabundance of bluebell leaves and flowers (Mertensia sp.) in the fridge, which I had gathered for a demonstration at a class that never materialized. I’ve used Mertensia in stir fries, omelets, and raw salads many times, so this time I decided to serve the batch as its own side dish. I sautéed it perhaps a tad too long in olive oil with some spruce salt on top, making some of the thin leaves turn out crunchy and translucent.
Normally when I cook bluebell leaves they lose their oyster-like flavor, but not this time. Maybe it was the salt or the fact that I served them alone on their own merits. Gregg said he liked the oystery flavor, but we both found them to be pretty darn chewy, so I don’t think I’ll prepare bluebell leaves that way again.
Rhusty Vodka Mint
Let’s not forget the cocktails! We had some squawbush berries (Rhus trilobata) from parts lower in Colorado, so I mashed them in cold water to release their lemon-sour taste into it. Then I strained them out and combined the sour liquid with a small amount of muddled wild mint (Mentha arvensis), vodka, and seltzer, adding sugar to mine but not Gregg’s. It came out pretty good.
Next time, I need to taste all the squawbushes before collecting from them, because apparently one of the ones I collected from didn’t have the strong lemony flavor of some of the others. Rain can wash the tart flavor away, so if the one bush had fruited before the heavy rainfall I could see how that flavor went down the drain.
Squawbush is related to staghorn and smooth sumac, both edible. It is also related to cashews, mangoes, and poison ivy. (Folks with cashew and mango allergies are warned to proceed with caution when using the edible Rhus species, and some authors warn against use by those allergic to poison ivy, though I have seen an extremely-poison-ivy-allergic individual do just fine consuming the edible sumacs, so I remain with questions about that warning…)
Creamy Wild After-dinner Mints
Last but not least, for dessert I made my creamy wild after-dinner mints using some of the wild mint (Mentha arvensis) I got in Rifle recently. This is my second time making them—see Mint Madness for the first—and I still didn’t look at a recipe for proportions. Instead I took all that was left of some very-old-but-not-moldy cream cheese and mixed it with a double-pat of butter and increasing amounts of confectioners sugar until it was thick and creamy, along with food-processed fresh mint. Then I rolled the blobs of minty sweet paste in more confectioners sugar, patted them flat, and put them in the freezer for an hour to chill.
Gregg said “no” to my offers of dessert mints multiple times until I melted some Bakers sweet chocolate that has been sitting in the fridge since the spring and painted it onto them, letting them cool in the freezer again before serving. Gregg looked at me in awe. “Is there chocolate on those?” he asked. Yup. And all of a sudden I can’t keep Gregg out of these wild Peppermint Patties I managed to create, all because I like playing with my wild food.