Sunday I wrote an essay for Connections for Women on balancing life and mentioned a simple pasta flavored with the wilted, lemon and oil flavored greens from the turnips and beets sourced at Tucson Farmers' Market on Saturday. What I didn't confess to was buying six bunches of baby turnips and cleaning out the supply of baby beets.
So come Thursday, beets and turnips roasted and long enjoyed, I had reproachful bunches of turnip and beet greens sighing in the fridge. NYT this week carried an article on a cooking school in Ireland and the resurgence of Irish cooking - a recipe for Forager's Soup was included. Memories and inspiration came in a flood.
Memories of foraging for sauce-sized mushrooms that my grandmother would fill with butter and put directly into the ashes of a turf fire until the butter melted and the mushroom was tender. Memories of dandelion and burdock wine fermenting - sometimes exploding - in the cold pantry. Memories of wandering a lane close to Snowdonia in Wales with my late husband - insisting that he give me his trade-mark Tilly hat so I could fill it with mushrooms, stuffing my own pockets with hazel nuts, and sacrificing my hat to hold blackberries. David put the scrumped apples into his pockets.
We were staying at a country inn. The owner was also the chef. Somewhat sheepishly, around five in the afternoon we presented him with our offerings with a muttered, "we couldn't resist harvesting these." He smiled, said thank you and noted the hat would likely smell of mushrooms for years to come - it did. Mine - blackberry stained beyond salvation got tossed into the washing machine when we returned home and was never quite the same again.
The custom in those country inns is for guests to gather in the lounge before dinner for a drink and appetiser - an amuse bouche courtesy of the chef. We were delighted to be presented with slices of grilled mushroom, filled with a local cheese and topped with chopped hazel nuts. Dessert that night was a sublime apple and blackberry cobbler - ground hazel nuts featured in the crust. I learned later that our meager offerings were but a drop in the bucket - the chef had done his own foraging earlier in the day.
I've always been a fan of 'found' foods. Inspired by the recipe for Forager's Soup and with those greens challenging me to be creative, I came up with the following recipe for "Found Soup".
Before crying "I don't have any beet leaves" read the end note!
- About eight loosely packed cups of chopped greens. I used turnip, beet, watercress and Chinese pea pods.
- About one cup of chopped onion
- About one cup of sliced potato
- Seven or more cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- One tablespoon butter
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Three slices pancetta cut into quarters
- Optional toppings - crumbled crispy bacon or pancetta, creme fraiche, sharp cheddar cheese.
Wash the greens, discard tough stems and any discolored leaves. Set aside.
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pan. Add the onions, pancetta and potato - stir to coat with the oil/butter , cover with parchment paper and sweat for about 5 minutes over low to medium heat. You want to wilt but not brown.
Throw away the parchment paper, cover potatoes and onions with stock, bring to the boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes or until completely tender.
Since I like the flavor but not the idea of pureed pancetta, I remove it at this point.
Pile the greens into the pot. Add the remaining stock. Push down the greens with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil uncovered and cook 2 - 3 minutes uncovered. Any longer and you'll lose the wonderful bright green color. You can hedge your bets on keeping the colour by adding around 1/8 a teaspoon of baking soda at the same time that you add the greens. I didn't.
Pure with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Be careful - you are dealing with a hot liquid. Check for seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.
Serve with a topping of either creme fraiche, crumbled bacon ( and you can substitute bacon for pancetta), crisp fried pancetta or a sharp cheddar cheese. Sublime!
I served my first experiment as a first course followed by grilled bratwurst and sweet and sour braised red cabbage. And because I made this three times to get it right, leftovers are in the fridge and will re-emerge on Easter Sunday as a "while we cook" get the appetite going prelude to lunch.
NOTE: Anyone who knows me also knows that I'm a go with the flow cook and not intimidated by recipes. For this green soup you can use chard, lettuce, parsley, green onions, dandelion greens. Go for it. It's a what you can find soup.