by Tom DiGangi Jr.
As Laura enjoys that second cup of coffee, marveling at the price point for colonial homes in Merida, Mexico while watching House Hunters International, I am stuck figuring out how to cook all those damn weeds with health benefits she keeps leaving on the chopping block.
I doubt cooking is magic or art as some would suggest. Rather, it is craft, based on science and education. You learn how to manipulate stuff that already tastes good into new stuff that hopefully tastes better by applying heat or salt or combining it with other stuff that also tastes good. The chances of success in producing a meal increase dramatically if the cook actually knows a little bit about the stuff to be cooked. At least on Chopped, there are instructions on the packages of the unknown products so the contestant chefs don’t accidentally kill someone by preparing the unknown foods the wrong way – think rhubarb, which has toxic leaves, but edible stalks. Laura’s wild harvests are accompanied by no such guidance.
This leads to a question: What do I know about cooking broad leaf plantain, garlic mustard, lesser celandine or chickweed? The answer: Absolutely, nothing. But, I am willing to experiment. This is science, right? So, I taste, trusting Laura’s has no plans for my early demise.
Chickweed & Garlic Mustard “Carbonara”
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms (reconstituted by soaking in ½ C hot water)
4 oz crimini or button mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 small yellow onion (sliced)
1 ½ C garlic mustard leaves
1 ½ C chickweed tips (not the tougher lower stalks)
1 slice pancetta (about ¼ inch thick), cut into sticks
3 T white wine
3 T extra virgin olive oil
½ lb of fusillli pasta
2 egg yolks
½ C grated parmigiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
Reconstitute the dried porcini in ½ cup of hot water by soaking for at least 15 minutes, drain and reserve the soaking water for later use in the recipe. Roughly chop the reconstituted porcini.
Using 2 tablespoons of the oil, render the pancetta in a large sauté pan, along with the onions. As they begin to brown, add the crimini mushrooms, and continue browning until the pancetta has begun to crisp. Add the chopped porcini, the reserved soaking water, white wine, chickweed and garlic mustard, and cook together for a few more minutes.
Drop the fusilli into the pot of boiling, well-salted water and cook until al dente. Remove the pasta from the water and add to the sauce in the sauté pan, with a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Stir and turn off the heat.
Finish by dressing the pasta with the parmigiano cheese, the remaining oil, the egg yolks, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine. The residual heat of the pasta will cook the yolks while maintaining a creamy texture. Serve immediately, with the same white wine used to make the sauce.
Chickweed & Garlic Mustard Pesto
1/2 Cup Garlic mustard leaves, washed and removed from stem
1 Cup Chickweed leaves, flowers and stems, washed and chopped
1/4 Cup Pistachio nuts
1/4 Cup Extra virgin olive oil
2 T. Grated parmigiano cheese
1 T. Lemon juice
1 t. salt
Combine all dry ingredients plus lemon juice in a food processor, and grind. Drizzle in olive oil slowly, pausing to scrape down the sides, until the ingredients form a thick paste. Store in refrigerator. Mix with pasta, warm potatoes, or grain dishes for a healthy meal. Add to soup as a bright flavor booster. Top off cheese and crackers with a small amount. Try it out and have fun!