Apparently it's no longer enough just to shop at farmer's markets. The next big thing among the gastroscenti is right in our own backyards, in the form of foraged food. Foraging - the ancient technique of hunting and gathering food - has maintained a small following through the ages, particularly among mushroom lovers, but now a local business is trying to make wild-harvested food a little more accessible for urban folks like me. ForageSF operates on a subscription model just like a CSA and draws on a network of foragers for each of the biweekly boxes.
Always eager for a new cooking challenge, I decided to give ForageSF a try. When I got my first box on Saturday, I was surprised at both the variety and quantity of food I got: miner's lettuce, stinging nettles (fresh and dried for tea), fiddlehead ferns, sea asparagus (again!), spinach, radish greens, oranges, mixed mushrooms, and Dover sole. None of it cultivated, all of it from the Bay Area, and some of it (like the oranges) from my own neighborhood. You can't get much more local than that!
Once I had the goods, I started sketching out the menu for the dinner party I had planned for that night. I wanted to make maximum use of the foraged items and minimize buying any additional ingredients. Here's what I came up with:
Chilled nettle and spinach soup with cilantro oil and crema. I served this in shot glasses because greens yield so little once cooked, and I couldn't bear to dilute the beautiful puree with broth or cream. So the soup itself consisted of nettles, spinach, and salt alone - the greens were so intensely flavored that nothing more was needed.
Individual savory flan with sea asparagus and chive, with a salad of miner's lettuce and sherry vinaigrette. I wanted something eggy and make-ahead as a vehicle for some of the veggies, so I came up with the flan recipe on the fly. Miraculously, it worked!
Pan-fried sole with kurozu beurre blanc and a saute of mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. I was inspired to do the beurre blanc by way of kurozu, a type of Japanese rice vinegar that's aged in ceramic jars. Its complex sweetness made the beurre blanc really special. (I got my kurozu as a sample from a food show; sadly, I think the company is still looking for an importer, which means I can't get any more.)
Pavlova with oranges and marionberry chantilly. Pavlova is one of my favorite make-ahead desserts. I started with this recipe for the meringue, but left out the cocoa and used Banyuls vinegar (an aged wine vinegar) instead of regular red wine vinegar. For the chantilly, I just whipped heavy cream and mixed in some marionberry jam I had in the pantry.
Of course, eating wild-harvested food doesn't come without some major potential risks - the possibility of poisonous mushrooms being the most obvious - and so I felt obligated to issue a disclaimer to my friends before we began the first course. Nobody opted out of the meal, everyone enjoyed it, and nobody has died yet (I don't think). Fingers crossed...