Episode Three of The Wild Harvest show is here: another dose of nature from the woods, rivers and fields of Wisconsin straight to you.
Foraging meets culinary tradition: Cucina Povera
Differing from Episodes One and Two, Episode Three has an underlying theme: Italian poverty food, or la cucina povera. If you’ve been following along with the blog for the past few weeks, you might’ve noticed a similar theme. With the other episodes, I released all the recipes at once when the show was ready, but two of the recipes that we feature needed a little more of a spotlight on them than just a quick mention, specifically la Minestrella Gallicano and Zavirne. By themselves, both are unique, fascinating recipes, but together, they help paint a larger picture of the deep variety, width and depth of Italian culinary traditions relying on wild plants.
The final dish we settled on was the most difficult: something with chicken of the woods mushrooms. Like I’ve said before, plants are pretty simple–they’ll always be there if you’re at the right time. Mushrooms don’t care if you’d like to film them though, and they work on their own timeline. Time is precious, and if I’m going to try and coordinate a shoot for some of the direct-to-camera footage with Jesse, and the Credo Nonfiction Team, I want to make sure we’re going to get what we need. Nobody likes getting skunked.
I knew that June would probably be the best month to feature chicken of the woods, since there’ll be so many others vying for the spotlight afterwords, but June is also arguably the worst month for wild mushrooms in the Midwest, sans winter, so I was a little itchy to say the least. If you get a good rain at the tail end of morel season though, you’ll get some really nice young flushes, and, luckily enough, we got the rain, and my friend Nettles over at Nourishing Roots was nice enough to give us a heads up about an epic chicken tree she’d found.
It was one of the best fruiting’s I’ve seen, one of those awe-inspiring times where nature shocks you with it’s bounty, and, after the excitement dies down (if that’s even a thing), you’re left confronted with the question: “what am I going to do with all this food?!”. It’s one of those finds that turns into a hunting story you tell around a campfire. But you don’t have to take my word for it–see for yourself. I snapped a quick behind-the-scenes video below, but it can’t hold a candle to what Jesse’s high-powered lenses captured in the finished product.
The only problem was the paradox of choice: there were lots of possibilities for Italian themed chicken of the woods recipes (just google fungo di carrubo). Trying to keep with the poverty food theme we settled on a nostalgic recipe for me: my old Chef Angelo Volpicelli’s gnocchi recipe made without egg (egg yolks are for the wealthy in the North) along with some cream and lemon. If you haven’t had chicken of the woods with lemon cream sauce, do yourself a favor and give it a shot next time you see some with gnocchi, or just your favorite pasta.
The final garnish to the episode was the intro: a moody beginning evoking the research behind the scenes. I’m often reading and stumbling down wild food rabbit holes in search of the latest artifact I can brush the dust off and eat. While it isn’t edible, my most prized possession in the whole wide world is a literal artifact–a 250 year old book on mushrooms in Italian called Fungorum Agri Arimensis Historium. The 2nd edition tome is in the original Latin, and, although it’s not going to tell you how to cook a mushroom, seeing the history dripping from the pages sets the tone of the tale, and gave Jesse and I an excuse to invoke another epic journey that’s inspired a lot of us.
Enjoy the show, preferably on a big screen to bask in all of it’s 4k glory.
Special thanks to Duluth Pack for contributing to this episode. If you’re in the market for gear, you can use the promo code FORAGER15 for 15% off anything they sell. In the episode I’m using the Rambler pack, which, with a small plastic (3.5 gallon) garbage can stuck in it, or a wicker basket, makes a solid hard-sided pack for gathering.
La Minestrella, The Italian Stew of Many Greens
- 12 oz wild greens largest variety possible
- 1 medium yellow onion 4oz
- 1 small carrot 4 oz
- 1 small rib of celery 2oz
- 2 large cloves of garlic 1/2oz, chopped
- 2 cups 10 oz cooked cannelinni beans or roughly ¾ cup (3oz) dried beans
- 1 cup bean cooking liquid or stock
- Kosher salt to taste
- 4 cups homemade pork chicken, or vegetable stock and/or a combination using the bean cooking liquid
- ¼ cup olive oil plus plenty for serving
- Fresh cracked black pepper for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the greens at a rapid boil for 1 minute, then refresh in cold water and allow the greens to sit in it for at least an hour or so to help calm the flavors, especially if using strong tasting greens. If you like mild greens, you may not need to soak them.
- Remove the greens, squeeze dry and chop medium-fine and reserve.
- Puree the carrot, garlic, onion and celery in a food processor or blender and reserve.
- Heat the oil in a soup pot and cook the vegetable puree for 10 minutes or until starting to brown around the edges, stir it here and there so it cooks evenly, you want to tame the garlic here. Add the stock, bean cooking liquid, or enough liquid to make a puree, and ½ cup of the beans, heat, and puree with a handblender (food mills are often used).
- Add the greens, season with a good pinch of salt and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until the greens are very tender. Double check the seasoning, adjust as needed for salt and pepper, also consider adding some liquid if it looks dry, and, preferably, chill the soup overnight to let the flavors meld.
- To serve the soup, ladle 1 cup of soup into a bowl, garnish with plenty of olive oil, fresh cracked pepper, and one of the mignecci, cut in half, to scoop up the greens with.
Gnocchi with Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms and Lemon Cream
- Potato ricer, gnocchi board
- 1 lb gnocchi cooked (see note)
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 6 oz fresh tender chicken of the woods mushrooms, sliced into ¼ inch pieces
- A few scrapes fresh lemon zest
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Fresh lemon juice to taste, about 2 teaspoons
- Fresh grated parmesan to taste
- 2 tablespoons sliced wild garlic shallots, green garlic, or garlic scapes
- Chive flowers to garnish (optional)
- Wood sorrel leaves to garnish (optional)
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Sweat the chicken of the woods in half the butter, then add the wild garlic or other allium and cook for about 30 seconds, just until they turn bright green.
- Add the wine and cook for a minute, then add the cream and gnocchi, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon zest.
- Finally, finish the sauce with the lemon juice to taste, and swirl in the butter.
- Finally a small amount of parmesan off the heat, tossing to mix, then divide between preheated serving bowls, garnishing with the chive flowers and sorrel, if using.
Par-cooking gnocchi is my preferred way of making them, just cook in rapidly boiling water, drain and toss with a bit of oil up to an hour or two before serving.
Sweet Fried Angelica Blossoms
- Angelica blossoms unopened, sheath removed, stem trimmed to an inch or two, or as long as your frying pot can accommodate.
- Highest quality honey for serving
- Powdered sugar for serving
- Flavorless oil for frying, as needed
- Dredge/Batter see note
- All purpose flour or similar
- Beaten egg
- A good dash of liquor like sambuca, gin, limoncello, etc or a dash of water
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- Whisk the egg and liqour if using. Mix the flour, pinch of salt and cinnamon.
- Blanch the angelica blossoms in a pot of rapidly boiling water for 5 minutes, then allow to cool in the pot. Remove the angelica and drain well.
- You really want to get all the moisture out here, since it will affect the finished crust of the fritter. Heat some oil (shallow fry will work if you’re careful, but for big batches I recommend a candy thermometer) until hot (350F).
- Meanwhile, using one hand for wet, one hand for dry to avoid looking like a child with a paper mache project, coat the angelica blossoms in flour, egg, flour and fry on both sides until golden brown.
- Serve hot dusted with powdered sugar, and honey on the side. You can eat them whole using a sharp knife, or cut them into 1/3rds, dust, drizzle and serve family style.
My flour-egg-flour batter is easy and designed to give you a crisp crust that’s easy to work with, that anyone can make with minimal equipment. That being said, deep frying is the best, and there’s more than one way to fry things for dessert. If you prefer things like pancake batter, etc, go ahead and use what you like.