Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

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 VII: Primary and Secondary Consumption of Elm

I’ve become more and more intrigued by culinary uses of tree leaves, since there is nothing more ecologically sound: the soil is never disturbed, carbon is sequestered, soil biota is preserved, and a small tree can produce an awful lot of leaves. The drawback is that there is little information about how to use them or even which ones are safe to use. I’ve written recently about my elm leaf pasta.  Today I experimented with spaetzle, the firm eggy dumplings made in Eastern Europe but highly adaptable anywhere.

Here I will make my usual disclaimer about eating wild foods or foods that you have never eaten before: never trust your safety to a stranger on the Internet. Do your own research, be aware that your tolerance may be very different from mine, and experiment cautiously before you eat a lot if you do decide to eat wild foods. All green leafy foods can be laxative to people who don’t usually eat them. The decision is yours.

I refer in the title to “primary and secondary consumption” because not only do I eat the leaves directly in the spaetzle but the eggs come from my chickens, who eat a lot of elm leaves. So this is double-layered tree-eating.

I couldn’t find my spaetzle maker, so I tried a potato ricer, which I had read would also work. It doesn’t really. Have a spaetzle maker and life will be simpler.

This was a freewheeling experiment and quantities aren’t exact. Basic proportions for spaetzle are a cup of flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of milk, and a half teaspoon of salt whisked together, but this one is different because of the leaves. I started with all the elm leaves that I could squeeze into one hand, about two cups when fluffed up more loosely. They were steamed for seven minutes and cooled.

Then I put one and a quarter cups of flour in the blender, added the leaves, and chopped as finely as possible. This is a bit tedious, with some stopping and stirring required. Then I added half a teaspoon of salt and five egg yolks, and just enough water to make a very thick batter. Run the batter through the spaetzle maker into salted water at a fast simmer, cook until the spaetzle rise to the top, and simmer until done. Take one out and bite it and examine the interior. They should be cooked through when finished, no longer wet and sticky inside. This is usually 2-4 minutes tops. Drain, and spread out on a flexible cutting board to cool. Don’t use wax paper, as I show here, because it turns out they stick to it and it is a bit annoying getting them off again.

At this point you can proceed or refrigerate them for a day until needed. I wanted to try them right away, so I heated up a skillet to a bit above medium and chopped up a bit of celery, two healthy sprigs of marjoram, and two small cloves of garlic. Two tablespoons each of butter and olive oil went in the skillet, the garlic went in to sizzle for a few seconds, and the herbs were added and tossed around for a minute. Then the spaetzle went in. At this point you can either cook them at medium heat until heated through as seen here,

or do as I prefer and keep cooking until the little dumplings have some browned spots, as shown here:

Serve as a landing with something nice on top. My preference is fried eggs with runny yolks and nice crisp brown rims. My husband’s plate is shown at the top of this post, and yes, he really does like that much pepper on his eggs. I can also imagine the assemblage looking even more colorful with some deep red chile drizzled over the green dumplings and eggs.
There is no strong or objectionable flavor in elm leaf spaetzle, and there are certainly far more fiber and fewer carbohydrates than in all-flour spaetzle. My mother’s objection to nearly all my leafy foods is that they are green. Well, leaves are green. Maybe we just need to get used to eating some green food, and given that people love some odd colored things like deep blue potatoes, I don’t see any reason why green food is beneath consideration. Green is the color of growth, so maybe we can come to think of it as “growth food.”

no doubt it goes without saying that if you don’t wish to experiment with wild foods, you can use chard or similar mild greens instead. Steam, squeeze dry, and proceed as above.

Living in Interesting Times: Unexpected Perennial Vegetables


I’ve written a lot about the perennial “weeds” around my place that keep me in greens,  but there are also some veggies that aren’t known as perennials but can be managed that way for good eating with very little work.

Surprisingly, garlic can be managed that way. I plant a lot of garlic because I use huge amounts as green garlic before it ever matures a bulb. In one area I forgot to harvest, and by year three I had a thick clump of fine grassy leaves in the spring that were tender and delicately scented of garlic. Of course you won’t get any bulbs if you manage garlic this way. It’s strictly a leafy herb. In early spring I start cutting bunches of the leaves thinly, like chives,  to float on soups and toss decoratively on top of other dishes. By late spring the leaves are tougher and I use handfuls of them chopped into stir-fries where they will get at least a few minutes of cooking. In midsummer the leaves brown and die back, and new leaves come up in the fall.

I’m also experimenting with managing ordinary leeks in a perennial bed. So far I’ve only been at this for a couple of years, so I don’t know how it will work out in the long run. The first year I planted deeply in the normal way, then when I was ready to harvest the leeks in late summer, I carefully dug away the dirt next to them and cut the edible shaft off, leaving the base and roots in place. Naturally you get a bit of dirt on the cut and have to trim away another 1/4 inch to clean them up for the kitchen. The following spring each base sent up between 2 and 5 “daughters.” I dug some out by the roots to thin the bed, using the thinnings  chopped up in greens dishes. I left some by themselves and some as smaller clumps of two or three.

At this point in late spring all are of useable size, although of course the singletons are larger. I’ll harvest some as described above and leave some in place to throw up a bloomscape. Leek scapes  are one of my favorite garden treats. The tough outer skin needs to be peeled off but the interior is delicious, sweet, crisp, and gently oniony. It’s a wonderful element in Chinese dishes, having both flavor and texture.
I’ll plan to dig out enough by the roots to leave just one base in each planting position, so that (I hope) each will again make good-sized useable leeks the following year.

Keep in mind that your own leeks, harvested young, can often be used up to the tips. Cut the leaves in cross sections about 1/4” wide and use in cooked greens dishes or stew them gently in butter or olive oil with a little salt until tender. They need cooking to get tender even in early spring, and get tougher as the weather warms and are no longer useable except to cook in broth for flavoring. Don’t try cooking the leaves of leeks from the store, which have been in storage and are tough as nails.

When managing anything as a perennial, don’t forget to keep the soil fed. I sprinkle some chicken manure around in fall, then mulch with alfalfa hay, and the soil is black and rich now, a far remove from  the tan adobe clay that I started with.

Living in Interesting Times: More Experiments with Greens


Spring weather is always erratic here in the high desert, but more so this year than usual. First an early spring, with the crocuses blooming a full two weeks earlier than they ever have before. Then weeks of balmy spring weather and a glorious fruit-tree bloom, followed this week by a hard freeze, a day of snow, then a week of 70 degree afternoons. Seriously weird. The tiny green fruit that set so abundantly has shriveled and turned black, but of course the greens are undaunted. This is their glory season and the sudden temperature changes seem only to amuse them.

My only concern is to find new ways to eat them. Right now I’m happily reliving the Chinese phase that lasted through most of my twenties. While rereading Fuschia Dunlop’s The Food 0f Sichuan, I was reminded of the small cold dishes of vegetables with complex spicy dressings that are served in small portions as a sort of tapas array before meals, and I decided to try a larger version on a rice base as a light meal.

The greens were a handful each of a lot of things growing around the yard: two chard leaves with stems sliced, a collard leaf sliced into threads, scorzonera leaves sliced crossways, bladder campion stems, the tender tips of goji berry shoots, small fennel leaves, a few tarragon tips, and several leaves of young curly kale. All were steamed for about 4 minutes and then allowed to cool to room temperature. Cooked white rice was brought to room temperature.
The greens were chopped into pieces about an inch long, mixed up, and layered on top of the rice.

To make the dressing, a 1”x2” piece of ginger and two large cloves of garlic were pounded to a paste in the mortar with about a teaspoon of sugar. Stir in a tablespoon of hot oil with chile flakes (or less, depending on heat preference,) half a cup of good soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of rice vinegar, and a tablespoon of Asian roasted sesame oil and you have a good basic dressing. Taste and see if you want it sweeter. Drizzle generously over the greens and eat, or elaborate further if you want with the addition of meat or shrimp.