Posts Tagged ‘edible wild plants’

Using What You Have VIII: Permaculture Pasta

I wrote several posts ago about elm leaf pasta, and the idea of using tree leaves has continued to intrigue me. The use of trees avoids soil disturbance, adds a vertical element so that  more food can be grown in less ground space, and provides shade and nesting sites for birds as well as leafy greens. As far as which leaves to use, my usual warning applies: all decisions about your safety are up to you, and research is necessary. I choose those that have mild flavor as well as a good safety profile. Tree leaves tend to be too tough to enjoy as cooked greens, so applications like pasta where they are finely ground are the perfect way to use them. The previous post describes the proportions, but with this attempt I decided that I wanted the leaves more smoothly ground and a result more like spinach pasta. I used the same proportions: all the leaves I could tightly cram into one hand with a heaping cup of flour, and this time used half elm leaves and half young mulberry leaves. The leaves were steamed for seven minutes, drained and cooled, and then the leaves and flour were put in my Vitamix blender instead of the food processor. Grinding the leaves very finely into the flour requires stopping the blender several times and stirring the jar right to the bottom with a long handled fork. But eventually the mixture is very smooth and homogenous and powdery, and can be transferred to the food processor and the necessary number of egg yolks added to form a firm but flexible dough. Roll into a thin pasta dough by whichever means you prefer; rolling pin (skill required,) hand-cranked machine, or for me definitely the rolling attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer. I rolled this dough thin, to produce a delicacy similar to spinach pasta. Cut into fettuccine with a roller or by hand, and freeze immediately for later use or use within a few hours.


Garlic bulbs are coming in from the garden right now, and I decided on garlic cream sauce. The flavor of the newly harvested cloves is wonderful. I peeled two cloves and sliced them into micro-thin transparent slices with my sharpest knife.They were sautéed in a small heavy saucepan with two tablespoons of butter. When cooked through but not colored at all, I added a quarter cup of good white wine and turned the heat up briefly to let the wine boil away. Then half a cup of heavy cream was added and brought to a boil. The heat was turned off and a few small sprigs of finely snipped tarragon added. I like to add an egg yolk at this point too, but make sure the saucepan has cooled down enough to prevent scrambling.Have some of the best Parmesan you can obtain, coarsely grated, and a small handful of lightly toasted pine nuts.
Drop the pasta into rapidly boiling water, and it is so thin and delicate that it will probably be done by the time the water returns to a boil. Taste to make sure, drain, sauce, toss with some of the cheese, and put the rest of the cheese and the pinenuts on top. Grate fresh pepper over the top for a touch of piquancy and serve. It’s a wonderfully comforting meal and, once you know what you’re doing and have the pasta ready, comes together in the time it takes to bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. A good handful of shelled peas or snow peas would be a lovely addition, and I wish I had thought of it at the time.

I’ve decided that my tree leaf pasta can be styled “Permaculture Pasta.” My plans for the future include making more of it to freeze, and finding out more about leaves that could be used.There is not much data around about the edibility of tree leaves, and under no circumstances should you wander around experimenting without data. In my own yard there are two trees, black locust and almond, that have toxic leaves. You were only issued one liver, so treat it with a little care and respect. Leaves of perennial plants known to be edible are a good possibility. In my own yard, scorzonera leaves are common and abundant. I’m also thinking about bronze fennel, which I’ve used to wonderful effect as a pesto, and may try incorporating it into the pasta itself. Grape leaves might add an interesting slightly tart note, Although you would need to remember that they turn yellow brown, not bright green, uncooked. Maybe add some last Sonado kale leaves to improve the green color? although you would need to remember that they turn yellow brown, not bright green, uncooked. Maybe add some lacinato  kale leaves to improve the green color? As always, the possibilities are limitless as long as you operate rationally and safely.



Using What You Have VI: Eating the Siberian Elm


I know a wonderful forager in Flagstaff who mentioned eating Siberian elm leaves, and commented on their mild flavor. I have been meaning for years to look for more uses for the noxious invasive elm, and my goat and chickens eat huge amounts, but I had only found one source alluding to them being edible by people, so I was hesitant. But if Mike says it I believe it, so I was newly inspired to experiment. I could imagine the texture being chewy, as is often the case with tree leaves, so I decided on a context in which the leaves would be chopped very finely. A pasta akin to spinach pasta seemed like a natural experiment.
I was just playing around in the yard, so all measurements given here are inexact. This makes two servings. I gathered a double handful of tree leaves, mostly young Siberian elm tips but also a small fig leaf, a very large grape leaf, and some young mulberry leaves. Fresh pasta only cooks for a minute or two, so I precooked the leaves in the steamer for seven minutes at fairly high heat. Once they were steamed, I turned them out on a cutting board and chopped them roughly with a knife. Then I put a heaping cup of flour in the food processor, added the leaves, and ran the machine until the leaves were chopped as finely as possible. Then I added egg yolks one at a time until the dough formed. For me, this took five yolks. It might be more or less depending on your ambient humidity and your flour. At this point I had a smooth, slightly sticky lump of dough.

I set the dough aside for half an hour to rest, and then set out a cutting board generously sprinkled with flour. I used my Kitchenaid pasta roller to roll the dough, but you could use a hand-crank roller or roll it by hand. Use as much flour as you need to keep it rolling smoothly. I have a metal clothes-drying rack that I use to hang the sheets of pasta as I work with them. This is a good way to keep them organized. Also, they look pretty when sunlight from the window glows through them. These transient pleasures are part of home cooking.


I rolled up the sheets, dusting with flour again, and cut them into linguine by hand because I like the uneven edges that result from hand-cutting. They do have to be delicately untangled after cutting.

Once the pasta is cut, dinner is simple. Heat up a pot of salted water to boiling, and while it’s heating, set out 2 tablespoons  of good grassfed butter and grate a handful of top-quality Parmesan. Have a strainer ready in your sink, and set out two pasta bowls. Have your pepper grinder ready; I have a separate grinder for white peppercorns for more delicate dishes like this one. Put the noodles in the boiling water, keep the heat high, and start testing by biting a fished-out strand as soon as the pot returns to a full boil. Mine was done in about one and a half minutes of boiling. Scoop out about half a cup of water for a “pasta roux” and dump the noodles into the strainer. While they drain, add the butter to the pot, grate about ten turns of the pepper mill over the butter, and return the hot noodles to the pot. This all has to happen fairly quickly, before the noodles stick together. Add most of the grated cheese, toss with two wooden spoons, and add only enough of the pasta water to make the noodles move freely when tossed. Serve into the waiting bowls and top with a bit more cheese.

Here’s how the noodles look before the additional cheese is added. They’re good this way too, but I do like the grainy texture of unmelted Parmesan on top.

We found this absolutely delicious, but then it’s hard to go wrong when you’re using really high-quality Parmesan. It makes everything taste good, so I make no special claims for my leaf pasta. I can say that there is no strong or objectionable flavor of any kind and the texture is light and lovely. It makes use of one of the most Godawful weed trees imaginable, and makes it taste good, and I am satisfied with that. Beyond question, it adds additional fiber to the pasta. What it adds beyond that is unclear, since there is no nutritional analysis of Siberian elm leaves that I can locate. Be satisfied with the fact that you are eating your invasives and they taste good.
This would also be a delicious pasta with some really good olive oil and pinenuts, and it would be excellent for lasagna. I’m also going to try adding some fresh herbs at the processing stage so that their flavor is actually incorporated within the pasta; I think marjoram would be particularly good in this context. Some cream would be great in the sauce.

Living in Interesting Times: Spring Greens

This is a very strange time for everyone. As a healthcare provider, I know how much there is to worry about. I know that not everyone can isolate themselves from exposure, and not everyone has the luxury (and it is a luxury) of the money and space to store some crisis supplies. Not everyone has the luxury of a job right now, by a long shot. If you do, appreciate what you have and help others if you possibly can.

At this as at other tough times, I find myself thinking back to growing up in Louisiana. In hurricane country people were used to regular interruptions of basic services and kept on hand what they needed to get through 2-3 weeks. They helped each other and they followed the hurricane directives. So respect the restrictions we operate under right now and do the best you can not to be part of the problem.

Narrowing this down to the garden, there is nothing as comforting as being able to get some food from your own yard. There’s an egg shortage, but my chickens are laying, supplying us and a few colleagues and neighbors with at least some eggs. Rice and beans and seasonings are in the pantry, and if you always keep herbs in the garden and a few ham hocks in the freezer, you have the means to make things taste good.
This is a great time to learn to use your weeds if you haven’t already. I actually had to buy seeds to have dandelions, but once you have them they are faithful kitchen friends every spring. If you don’t care for bitter greens, mix them with milder greens like nettles, scorzonera, bladder campion, and salsify, all growing lustily in my yard right now and all perfectly delicious when cooked. If you don’t know these unstoppable weeds, learn about them and plant them now or learn where they grow. Then spring will be a time of abundance, regardless of what’s going on in the greater world, and the less need you have for outside groceries, the more there are for someone else. Seal and freeze the extra to eat another time. If you have a patch of Egyptian or other perennial onions, you’ll always have seasoning on hand, and a handful of chopped oil-cured olives adds delicious umami.


Mixed cooked greens in the refrigerator can be eaten in tortillas with cheese, used to top rice with some butter and meat juices, or (most deliciously, in my view) spread on toasted sourdough bread and topped with fluffy grated flakes of good Parmesan.
After that will come the meaty delicious leaves from last year’s chard plants, mulberry sprigs, hops shoots, and who knows what all. This may be the year that I finally try cooking the newest Siberian elm leaves, instead of feeding them all to the animals. I’ll comb my foraging and permaculture books for other things I haven’t tried yet.

The reason to do all this is not that there is no food in stores. There’s lots of food, with strange exceptions currently caused by hoarding more than any actual lack of supply. The reason is to take yourself out of the hoarding mentality and into a frame of mind to nourish yourself well and realize that you will act responsibly and do as well as you can. Life is uncertain and COVID-19 even more so. Everyone is at risk right now, but if we are staying home responsibly when not working and minimizing risk to ourselves and others we’ll feel better. If we feel that we can get things for elderly friends and relatives so that they can isolate more effectively, we’ll feel better. And staying home to garden, tend animals, and forage in the yard feels a lot better than sitting around watching television.

Dressing Up the Greens

My fanaticism about leafy greens is no secret,  and I have said in the past that if you keep them prepped and ready and preferably pre-cooked, you will eat a lot more of them. In the summer I try to keep horta, the Greek cooked greens mixture, in the refrigerator and see how many ways I can use it.
Although in general I eat low-carb, I do sometimes bake sourdough bread because I have a very good starter and it would be a pity not to use it now and then. Well, actually, I do it because sourdough bread is one of my favorite things and I allow myself an occasional relapse. The last time I made sourdough, I put a lump of dough about the size of a softball in the refrigerator, and a few days later I got the urge to use it.
If you have the dough and the horta ready, a greens calzone is a very easy thing to produce and looks rather spectacular. Pat the chilled dough out into a large thin circle, pile horta on half of it, top with generous layers of grated Parmesan and torn-up mozzarella, fold the bare half over the top, brush a beaten egg over the top dough and sprinkle with coarse salt, cut some slits in the top, and bake at 425 degrees until cooked through and browned. Ten minutes of actual hands-on time and some oven time when you can do other things.

If you don’t happen to have bread dough in the refrigerator, many stores and pizzerias now sell fresh pizza dough.

Species in my current batch of horta: lambsquarters, chard, walking onions, green garlic, broccoli leaves, mulberry shoots, wild lettuce tips, parsley, thyme.  Really a tiny number of species this time, but still awfully good.