02 March 2010

urtica dioica polenta

It's birdies by morning, and froggies by night. All things are growing, cultivated and wild. Thanks to some of my friends, I discovered the Fat of the Land blog recently. A fellow after my own heart, taking local food to the next level: foraging. One of my favorite food books is The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, in which the narrator spends a year hunting, fishing and foraging for the ingredients to a 3-day, 45-course Thanksgiving feast, all from recipes in Auguste Escoffier's 1903 culinary cornerstone, Le Guide Culinaire. 

Both blog and book take the natural world and  indigenous foodstuffs and pay them a wonderful compliment: cuisine. Both also take on invasive species: Steven goes after English Sparrows and European Starlings in the Scavenger's Guide, looking to take out a few of the little bastards and make a tasty dish in the process; Langdon is currently busy acquiring hunting rifle skills, looking to make some gumbo with as many of the Eastern Gray Squirrel's population as he can. Sadly, while Washington State Fish and Wildlife wholly endorse his quest, it is illegal to hurl projectiles of any sort at wildlife of any type within Puget Sound cities of a certain size. We have plenty right here in Blaine; he can come and visit any time. I'm not very good with my slingshot. Yet. Anyone/thing going after invasives, particularly when the bastards can be repurposed, rather than wasted, cheers me greatly.

At any rate, I've been reveling in this two-month early spring and getting all worked up about the prospect of eating fresh food again. Hence: NETTLES! It seems urtica dioica madness has infected everyone--we Northwesterners LOVE spring, no matter how mild the winter. So, thanks to FOTL and also my friend Jodie, I finally did something about it. Elli Dog and I went for a walk down the road and checked along Dakota Creek, and then along a tributary. Jackpot! 

We spent perhaps 15 minutes snipping off and collecting nettle tops (well, Elli spent it sniffing around for deer), and then ambled along back home with a stop at Giles Pond for a swim. For Elli.

Once home, I trimmed the leaves off of their stems with scissors and steamed them briefly. 

I then fried up some nice thick pepper bacon from Andal's Custom Meats in Mount Vernon, removed it from the pan when it was crispy, and made polenta with the fond. When the polenta was nearly done cooking, I stirred in a good handful of Parmesan, a knob of butter and about a third of my steamed nettles. While that sat aside, I warmed up the bacon again, threw in some garlic and the rest of the nettles. I grilled some white king salmon as an accompaniment, and piled it all into a bowl. Food photographer I am not, but it tasted freaking awesome, and looked beautiful--bright sunshine yellow polenta, deep green nettles, pink-red bacon and golden white salmon. Recipe link is below on the left.