This week, as part of my ‘best things in life are free challenge’, I am trying to find free items to supplement my diet with. So I have been busy scouring the neighbourhood, looking for plants to forage.
I found a mushroom growing by the side of the road yesterday but, without DJ’s expert mushroom picking skills to hand, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure whether it was a genuine field mushroom. If you’re not certain of the identification of a plant, it’s best to leave it alone, as there are so many poisonous plants and mushrooms. It was growing by a reasonably busy roadside and could have been affected by road pollution too. Plus something had already taken a bite out of it, so I decided to pass. There is another spot in a country lane near us where we have discovered silverweed growing, which has been used in the past as a famine food. The difficulty is that it’s the root you cook with, and you’re not really supposed to dig up plants without permission of the landowner. Luckily, I have also found some promisingly looking elderflowers growing nearby and plan to make elderflower and gooseberry ice cream, using some gooseberries from the garden and a recipe from Edible Wild Plants and Herbs by Pamela Michael.
But first I decided it might be fun to make a foraged version of one of my other favourite meals. Pasta is one of my favourite dishes and in Johnny Jumbalaya’s wild cookbook I found an intriguing recipe for chestnut pasta dough. While they’re not in season at the moment, I remembered that I had foraged for sweet chestnuts last year and froze them to use for chestnut stuffing. According to Jumbalaya, you can also use acorns to make a wild pasta dough too. However, I’ve never actually made conventional pasta before and don’t have a pasta rolling machine, so I was a bit dubious as to how it would turn out.
To make the dough, you mix half mashed chestnut or chestnut flour with half plain flour. I dug the chestnuts out of the freezer, peeled them (or tried to – it’s not easy), boiled them for a few minutes in water and then mashed them. I used about 70g of the mash with 70g of plain flour (if you use acorns, you use 25 per cent plain flour to 75 per cent acorn mash or flour). Then you add an egg, a teaspoon of vegetable oil and mix it all together into a dough. Take the dough out and knead it on a floured surface. Leave it to rest for 15 minutes, then roll it out to the thickness of a pencil lead (I made it a bit too thick, to be honest), roll it up and cut it into tagliatelle strips about half an inch thick. You’re supposed to leave them to dry out for 10 minutes, but I misread the instructions and forgot to.
Next, boil some water for your pasta, make your favourite pasta sauce and cook the chestnut tagliatelle for about ten minutes. I served it with a tomato and garlic sauce, using home grown garlic, and hoping it would mask the flavour of the pasta if I didn’t like it. When I served it up, I have to say it didn’t look particularly appealing. Once cooked, the pasta had taken on a grey colour from the chestnuts, but I tucked in anyway, expecting it to be awful. I was pleasantly surprised, though. While a bit doughy, the pasta was actually very edible. The chestnuts gave it a sweet, nutty flavour and before DJ had come downstairs to eat his share, I had cleared half the plate. I think the pasta would make a good ravioli, too. DJ is fond of his food and hasn’t always been impressed with some of my cooking on the frugal life blog. A couple of years ago, he refused to eat one of my World War Two offerings (and sensibly so – I ate the meal and felt sick all afternoon). But he ate quite a few helpings of the chestnut pasta and said it was good, despite ‘having the consistency of play dough’. I was amazed! Now I hope my elderflower and gooseberry ice cream will be just as good!
Would you try a wild version of your favourite meal? Have you ever made your own pasta? Leave a message and let me know.
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