Wednesday 18 January 2012

Foraging for a Wild Greens Gratin

Gratin of Wild Greens

Sunday was one of those wonderfully crisp, chilly, winter mornings that you only get after a hard frost.

December and early Januray have been so mild that many early spring plants are out and even starting to flower. But the frost of the past few days means that they will not last over-long. The weather was so beautiful that I decided to charge-up my camera and go on a bit of a forage.

I ended up with common hogweed shoots (they really would not survive the frost, so I had no qualms in harvesting), some rapeseed greens (I only took a few leaves, as the plant is hardy and would survive), bittercress leaves (typically the only guaranteed winter green) that would act as a seasoning and some very early nettle tops. Enough to fill a small baking dish and to give me my first wild-sourced dish of 2012.

Gratin of Wild Greens Recipe

200g common hogweed shoots
200ml nettle tops
200ml rapeseed greens
4 tbsp bittercress leaves
1 small onion, sliced
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
200ml milk
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
150g breadcrumbs
60g Cheddar cheese, grated

Bring a pan of lightly-salted water to a boil, add the hogweed shoots (trim the leaves and wash first). Blanch for 2 minutes then remove with a slottes spoon and set aside to drain.

Add the nettle tops to the pan, blanch for 2 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon, drain, chop and set aside.

Add the rapeseed greens to the same pan, blanch for 2 minutes then drain and set aside.

Personally, I do not mind the bitter flavour of the bittercresses, but if you would like to lessen this taste in them, trim the leaves neatly, blanch these for 2 minutes as well then drain.

Add a layer of onion to your baking dish then place half the blanched rapeseed greens on top. Layer in the common hogweed shoots then add a layer of onions and another layer of rapeseed greens.

In the meantime, make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a pan. When foaming, scatter over the plain flour and work in to form a roux. Cook gently for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer then stir in the 60g Cheddar cheese until melted. Take off the heat then stir in the chopped nettle greens and chopped bittercress leaves. Pour into the gratin dish and allow to settle.

Mix the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese then use this to top the dish. Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dish is piping hot and the top is golden brown.

I served this with a mash of Jerusalem artichokes (from the garden), mixed with carrots and parsnips.

This is a rich, warming dish, ideal for winter.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

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