Well, well, well. Been a while, but like many of the wild foods I’ve been in hibernation over winter. Actually both are a massive lie- both the wild food and myself have been fairly active. HGC Private courses have been well underway since mid-January and the wild larder seems under the impression its already spring, so there is plenty around for the keen forager as you are about to see. Although keeping tabs on the early appearance of spring greens, I’ve been more preoccupied with design and planning- our new Tree house HQ which is now well beyond the design stage and the first components or ‘Hardware’ are currently being forged down the road by the Glynde Blacksmith- Exciting stuff!
Whilst on the subject of tree houses, we will be launching our kickstarter campaign for our new tree house HQ in the next couple of weeks- so watch this space and please get involved- got some pretty fancy rewards lined up as I’m sure you can imagine!
So, salsa verde…
If you’ve never had the delight of sampling salsa verde, then you should probably change that pretty quick- it is the amalgamation of pure genius for the palate. The direct translation is ‘green sauce’, sounds about as glamorous as ‘gravy’. But then everyone loves gravy.
Salsa Verde does vary from place to place, the classic Italian version includes parsley, capers, garlic, onion, anchovies, olive oil and a dollop of mustard. Other variations on the theme include the Argentinian chimmichurri- a similar grouping of ingredients with the addition of chillis and oregano. In Mexico it includes tomatillos, coriander and jalapenos. Other versions include different varieties of herbage: the frenchies use parsley, tarragon or sage although these days along with the demise of their gastronomic genius, it has become some sort of mayo with tarragon. Béarnaise I think we call it…
Unexpectedly, it is zee Germans that historically have the most ‘wild’ version out there using the following seven herbs: borage, cress, sorrel, chives, chervil, salad burnet and parsley. Even dill, lemon balm and lovage have been used. Well played.
Salsa Verde is in essence is a sharp or piquant sauce, green in colour and designed to accompany meat or fish, it also works well with potatoes. In fact it so good, I’ve even had it on toast and had that ‘secret lemonade drinker’ moment with a spoon before bed. Good shit it most certainly is.
For something that is around 2000 years old, it pleases me a huge amount to be using wild ingredients to re-create an archaic recipe. The issue with many wild food books and the recipes they contain is the lack of adventure found amongst there pages. Don’t get me wrong, both Richard Mabey’s Food for free (1972)and Roger Philips Wild Food (1986) are both very worthy tomes when it comes to getting into wild food, dare I say it they are considered bibles to most hedgerow fondlers. But, as you can see from the original publishing date the 70’s and 80’s were not a culinary high point in the UK…
Many other recent foraging books often with ‘wild’ thrown in to the title somewhere just to reassure you you’re going slightly off the beaten path, sadly don’t vary much on past themes. In order for wild food to really be accepted in the 21st century and encourage folk to use it in the kitchen on a daily basis, stuff needs to be updated, experimented with and fooled about with. Fortunately there are those out there that are playing around with these flavours and giving them the spin these wonderful ingredients deserve: Hank Shaw in the USA at Honest-food.net, Mark Williams of Galloway wild foods, Robin Harford of eatweeds.co.uk and our very own head of the kitchen at HGC Dave Fennings of foragesussex.com to name a few.
I have made salsa verde on many occasions, I have even played around with a sorrel verde with my good friend Tom the Hungry Cyclist, but this recipe took a full blown taste test to get it bang on and working just right for the palate.
You would think that because most versions of ‘green sauce’ include parsley, that cow parsley or wild chervil would be on the list. Absolutely not. Whilst cultivated parsley is very handy, Cow parsley does little to excite the taste buds. In fact nothing. You would be better off eating grass. Also worth taking note- cow parsley is part of the carrot family whose other umbellifered brethren include two nasty lookalikes: Hemlock and Hemlock Water Dropwort which will put you six feet under pretty quickly- the toxic alkaloids respectively Coniine in Hemlock and Oenanthotoxin in Hemlock Water Dropwort are not to be fooled with.
Right, back to the safe wild edibles that you DO want to use. The best thing about this recipe is that the wild components are all very common, plentiful and easy to identify. Taking note from the original ingredients of salsa verde, the following wild plants were selected to take part in accordance with their culinary merit:
Also known as Ale Hoof, because it is has a shape resembling a hoof print and used to be used to flavour beer before the introduction of Hops. Needless to say it has a pungent aroma and strong taste- herbaceous in every sense- notes of rosemary, sage, mint and thyme all present when crushed. This is the ultimate wild ‘all herb’ and one of the most useful wild ingredients in the HGC kitchen.
Doesn’t need too much of an introduction- this lemony leaf with heavy citrus notes is one of the most versatile of all the wild greens, great with fish, even better with meat. The tang comes from the Oxalic acid present in the plant. Very common in fields and a lover of grassy banks with unmistakable, glossy, shield shape leaves. It has been said the French use it a lot- that’s bollocks, they don’t. Best used raw, as it tends to discolour and lose its punchiness when cooked. Lemon zest really helps to bring out the flavour of sorrel.
Wild garlic’s superior cousin. Whilst wild garlic/ramsons/ramps are pretty useful in the kitchen the strength of them means they can often overpower everything else. Three-cornered leek has a slightly more subdued flavour, both garlicky and sweet making it the more desirable option. Often found in the most unlikely of places, the long glossy blades are usually overlooked because at a glance they look a bit like grass or pre-flowered bluebells. So named because if you were to slice one of the 'blades' in half, it has three corners. No mistaking them in flower- very pretty white flowers, perfect for garnishing.
A non-native, brought over by the Romans as a potherb. Known as ‘the parsley of Alexandria’ due to its Mediterranean origins, Alexanders have settled happily into the UK, mainly near the coast, but I used to harvest a good patch in Battersea Park- see a more in depth post on them from the archives here. Also a member of the carrot family, this one is much more friendly, with a flavour somewhere between parsley and celery with a dose of aromatics which some can find not so pleasant or even ‘soapy’ . When used correctly, such as in this recipe- the combination of the other flavours really make it work perfectly. Over the centuries Alexanders have sadly fallen from favour and been replaced by celery.
Wild Salsa Verde.
(Makes 1 small jam jar- think Maille Dijon mustard size)
- 1 handful of Ground ivy
- 1 handful of sorrel
- 1 handful of three cornered leek
- 1 handful of Alexanders
- (All finely chopped)
- 2 TBSP red wine vinegar
- 6 TBSP Olive oil
- 4 Anchovies (finely chopped)
- A few strong twists of black pepper
- ZEST of 1 lemon
- 1 TBSP of Dijon Mustard
Quite straightforward as far as preparation goes on this one, but it depends on whether you are a heathen or not. If you are, then stick everything in a blender and whizz it up on a series of pulses, be careful, as you don’t end up with a pale green baby food. To be quite honest if you’ve taken the time to gather these plants, you can take the time to chop them and mix them by hand- the consistency will be much better and the colour darker. You shouldn’t need to add any salt, as the anchovies will have taken care of that for you.
All of the above plants are out in force at the moment, so well worth going on a wander in between the storms to make a few batches. Should last for up to a week jarred in the fridge if you don’t eat it all in one sitting!
On another note, bookings for all our 2014 courses are coming in thick and fast- there are still a few places left on our first Spring Seasonal Day course on Saturday 26th April. We are also taking booking for private groups, overnighters and Stag or Hen do’s with a few weekend dates between now and July remaining- please email [email protected] if you want to come and sleep in the trees and eat some seriously fine wild food.
Finally, we have a new member of the HGC team: her name is 'B', she's a bit hairy, currently still in training as a truffle terrier and has a taste for Harveys...