If you’re a keen gardener or happen to be lucky enough to live with a garden fanatic like I am then you’ll know that this part of April and early May is one of the most beautiful times in the garden. All the hard work over the Spring suddenly starts to pay off. Everything begins to bloom and it’s that wonderful first flush of the summer that you’re seeing; the first heads of the lupins burst into colour, the fox-gloves stretch up to the sky and the cape daisies spread the sunshine across the barren patches of the boarders. What you’ll also know is that the common weeds are too enjoying the lushness of the season – pesky nettles are everywhere, goosegrass tries to reach for the heavens through your dahlias and ground elder is a real nuisance that can quickly take over if you don’t watch out. Thankfully for your garden (and for the chef in all of us) all of these so-called weeds can be foraged and eaten. And if it’s not growing in your garden it’ll be growing along the hedgerows and in little woodlands; the young leaves of the herb bennet can be used as a substitute for spinach, borage is divine in salads, the infamous wild garlic makes an epic pesto and even the humble daisy leaves make for a great salad leaf.
I’m a big advocate for foraging and I have been ever since I met the incredible BBC Gardener Alys Fowler at the Wolds Words Festival in Louth about 6 years ago, who was hosting a talk on foraging. She inspired me to get out into the countryside and harvest what naturally grows all around us. Of course you can’t just go digging up any old patch of ground, or snipping bushes that don’t belong to you. It’s important that you try and seek permission before you take anything, however abundant it might be growing. You also must ensure you know what you’re picking and eating is safe to do so and never pick or eat anything you’re not 100% sure is edible. There are lots of guides out there and most of the stuff i’m suggesting you use is pretty basic weeds that a child would recognise but it’s always worth double-checking first. A great place to start in terms of guidebooks is the brilliant The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler.
The great thing about eating a tortilla with foraged plants is that it is a great vehicle for what you’ve picked as it has a subtle background taste that is a great bedrock for all the flavours of foraged goodies. This tortilla recipe is also very simple but you’ll be surprised how far one tortilla will stretch. It will make a delicious lunch served cold with a salad or a terrific dinner served warm with vegetables or pan-fried fish. You’ll need patients as there’s lots of low and slow cooking but it’s worth it for the results will be divine and you’ll wonder how the humble egg has been lifted so gloriously by a few bits of green you plucked from the garden boarder.
All of the plants suggested in the recipe freeze really well, simply wrap them in clingfilm or chop them finely and sprinkle them into ice cube trays and fill with water, they should last in the freezer for a month.
Remember to wear gloves when picking nettles and don’t pick any that have been too close to a busy road or anywhere that a dog has easy access for obvious reasons!
- 4 shallots – finely chopped
- 400g new potatoes – un-peeled and thickly sliced
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives – roughly 5 or 6 chive stalks (if in season, keep flowers for sprinkling)
- 1 bunch (handful) of wild garlic – washed well (use spinach if you can’t find)
- 8 nettle tops (the very top 4 leaves from the top of the nettles) washed well
- a large handful of ground elder leaves (use kale if you can’t find)
- 150ml extra-virgin olive oil and a large nob of butter
- a sprig of fresh thyme
- 6 large free-range eggs
for the above ingredients I am using a 25cm deep non-stick frying pan
carefully pour the potatoes and veg through a colander into a large bowl and pour the oil back into the panbeat the eggs in another bowl and then pour onto the potatoes and veg with plenty of salt and pepper and stir it all together, then let it sit a while whilst you re-heat the pan.
tip everything into the pan and cook on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes without doing anything, then use a spatula to shape the omelette into a cushion by softly pulling the edges in and slowly rotating the pan to flood the empty spacewhen it’s almost set with a little liquid still visible, take the pan off the heat and leave for 4 mins to cool a little, then place a large dinner plate on top and carefully flip the pan so that the tortilla is now on the plate, then slide it back into the pan and cook a few more minutes. Invert twice more, cooking the omelette briefly each time and pressing the edges to keep the cushion shape… slide it back on to a plate and cool for 10 minutes before serving.
eat and of course, enjoy!
I have never used nettles or ground elder in cooking, but will give them a try. We have become fans of wild garlic, thanks to your recipes.
The one thing I would never forage for is mushrooms. I can recall my father occasionally bringing a bag of freshly picked little white mushrooms for breakfast on Sunday when I was little. In those days bought mushrooms were a luxury but our visit to the fascinating mushroom museum near Saumur taught us that the perfectly edible and delicious ones look very much the same as the completely lethal ones. Since then I vowed only to use mushrooms bought from a shop!
Dominic Franks says
thanks Jean… gosh yes!! Would never forage for mushrooms unless I was with an expert
Dominic Franks says
oh and also, you’re so right… I always thought they’d be so complicated but they are in fact ridiculously simple!