Sometimes in life you’re lucky enough to look around and realize how many things there are to be thankful for. Having friends that are willing to come to your house for a dinner party that they will knowingly be eating foraged foods at every course is something to be supremely thankful for. I’m sure when I sent out the invitation there was some hesitation, but in the end, they were all gracious guests and we all had a wonderful evening.
But, our day didn’t start there…first there was learning and foraging to do!
Now, strawberry picking is a pretty tame version of foraging…I mean, you drive to a farm, pick in designated spots and pay for the berries, but the hubby and I still DID the picking, err, foraging. These were delicious strawberries, and I knew they would perfect components for our meal to come later in the evening! We picked 11 quarts! It was nice to beat some of the heat, but the gnats…well, we didn’t beat them. They were everywhere but we did it!
Then we headed back home, and I set to work prepping the berries. I reserved a quart out for use fresh, and flash froze the rest of them. They will sure taste good mid-winter!! Just when I thought I’d have a few moments to relax, my friend texted me to find out where I was. See, I was supposed to be at a weed walk with my friends and I had the time wrong apparently. Like 2 hours wrong. Ugh! Out the door I flew, headed to a local natural foods store, Sonnewald, that sells health supplements, fresh produce, organic foods and home supplies as well as boasting one of the most awesome, temperature controlled bulk food rooms I’ve ever seen. It is a weekly ritual for us to head there for those hard to find, good foods that you can’t get anywhere else, as well as stocking up on all kinds of grains and nuts. Sonnewald’s owner, Grace Lefever, turned 90 this year and she was hosting the weed walk, as she has been doing for over 30 years. It was amazing to go and listen to her talk and to see her in action at her age. Truly inspiring.
On a “weed walk” you will:
- Stroll casually around Sonnewald, walking barefoot is encouraged!
- Learn how to identify edible and medicinal plants.
- Smell, touch and taste these plants.
- Discover ways to use these plants in your diet.
- Learn that the most nutritious foods are free.
- Taste a delicious drink made from the plants you’ve learned about.
- Receive educational handouts
- Fellowship with other “weed walkers”
As you can see, there were plenty of other “Weed Walkers” to fellowship with. I wasn’t too late and was able to miss just the introduction but not the plants themselves. Whew! Too close!! So, along with everyone else, we visited garden beds that others would consider weeds to be removed, but that are lovingly referred to as plants and cared for by Grace and her helpers as important parts of a healthy lifestyle.
As we went along from plant to plant, Grace would put pieces of this and that into a bucket that one of her helpers carried – everything from rose petals and pansies to wild parsley and sorrel – to become the base of our promised delicious drink. It was amazing to see how these weeds all came together to be something like that!
My friends Jen, Evans and Anita were also on the weed walk, and also coming to dinner later…it was going to be a fun evening! Jen is showing off some lemon balm here. It tastes like a lemony mint and was destined to find it’s way into our soup of the evening.
Evans is hanging out by the kiwi tree…who knew that you could get kiwi in a Pennsylvania climate. He’s just hanging out there because there was shade…it was a HOT day to be walking around. By dinner time, we were all sporting a little pink skin here and there!
So, as our weed walk came to an end, I decided that I must find some french sorrel to plant at my house, along with a few other things. Planting weeds. Who would have ever thought that. But the sorrel was delicious. It had a crisp bite to it, with a burst of lemon. I wish I had gotten more! My friend Jen’s husband, Curvin, asked for and was given some of the seed tops so he’ll be planting some. I will have to make sure I get some of his seed tops then!
Time to get home, get cleaned up and make some dinner! Our original menu had to be adapted a bit based on weed availability – weeds aren’t as predictable as usual food sources but the menu we came up with was mouthwatering. Every course has a foraged ingredient and I will reference in the menu each foraged component. I wasn’t able to personally forage every ingredient and some are ingredients that I purchased but are typically foraged ingredients, such as mushrooms. I did forage at least one component of each dish personally.
Empanadas: Lamb’s Quarter, Mushroom Variety
Carrot Soup: Lemon Balm
Strawberry & Goat Cheese Salad: Strawberries, Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Pea Tendrils
Lasagna Roll Ups with Browned Butter Sauce: Walnuts, Mushrooms, Parsley, Sage
Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce: Black Raspberries
I had made the panna cotta a day ahead of time, which is perfect. All I had to was loosen and invert them onto a serving plate and make the raspberry sauce. When I’m doing a special dinner, I try to prep ahead of time as much as possible so that I can enjoy the company as well as provide a great meal, so I tried to have as many courses prepped and ready to go before everyone arrived as possible.
My hubby served as sous chef for me, peeling and chopping carrots and running for ingredients as needed. It was a big help having him in the kitchen with me!
First up was the soup, set to simmer and let to cook for almost an hour.
While the soup was cooking, I set to work on the Empanada filling. I had decided to forego a traditional Empanada because I was worried it would be too heavy for our meal and went with a puff pastry version. I’m still calling it Empanada though because that was the inspiration for it.
Our salad was one of my favorite parts of the meal. I love cheese…feta cheese especially. I will not lie and say I didn’t have to “taste test” a few of the crumbles once I was done dressing the salads.
On to the main course. I had a major kitchen incident for the main course, but as I relayed to our guests, I was glad it happened on the prep and not the cooking because that would have been disastrous! I had purchased fresh pasta sheets planning on making ravioli – I should have just went all the way and made the pasta dough but my last experience with that wasn’t beautiful and I wanted our meal to be perfect. When I went to seal the first set of ravioli, it wouldn’t seal. No amount of forcing would make it happen. So, I went off to think for a moment. I already had the filling ready to go and so I decided to just go with the pasta sheets as an individual lasagna and roll them up. Fingers crossed!
Last but most certainly not least was the Panna Cotta. I love Panna Cotta. It has quickly become one of my most favorite desserts and I was happy to share it with my friends. None of them had ever had it before which made it so much more special to share with them! I was able to use raspberries that I had foraged last year from our backyard wild black raspberry bushes that were frozen to make the accent sauce.
I am looking forward to looking at my weeds in a new way, and my hubby and I are headed back to Sonnewald in a few weeks to do another weed walk. This time, I’m taking a notebook and try to gather (beg for!) some seeds if I can while I’m there to start our own “weed garden” bed just like Grace’s…
Life is about getting out there, experiencing new things and sharing your time with people you enjoy spending time with. And we certainly experienced life with our day devoted to all things weedy and foraged!
Now that you’ve shared our day…time for me to share some recipes!
Puff Pastry Empanadas
- 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
- 5 cups chopped spinach, lamb’s quarters or other greens mixed and coarsely chopped
- 2 cups fresh mushrooms, chopped small
- 1/4 c onion, diced
- 2 T butter, salted
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Melt butter in large saute pan over medium high heat, add onions and mushrooms, cook until onions are translucent.
- Add greens and allow to cook down.
- Spread one sheet of puff pastry on lightly greased cooking sheet, spread greens and mushroom mixture over pastry sheet and top with remaining pastry sheet.
- Press top of pastry to push out air from over them greens mixture and press lightly around edges to seal. Individual empanadas can be made by cutting the dough beforehand and filling each piece and sealing. I chose to do as a large sheet for the color of seeing the filling.
- If desired, you can brush an egg wash over the dough before cooking. It will give it a deeper color and get more golden when it puffs up.
- Cook for about 30 minutes and then remove from oven and set on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving.
- 14 medium carrots
- 1 sprig of lemon balm, using leaves only unless you don’t want to blend into final soup. You could put the whole sprig in and then fish out before blending.
- 1/2 onion
- 1 T minced garlic
- 32 oz vegetable stock
- 1/4 t ginger
- 1 t salt
- 1/2 t pepper
- Using a large stock pot, bring vegetable stock to low boil. Add spices to stock and mix well.
- Peel and chop carrots and onion and add to stock and spice mixture, reduce to a simmer.
- Cook for about 45 minutes or until carrots are very soft.
- Remove from heat and using an immersion blender, blend soup until a velvety texture.
- Serve at any temperature. If serving cold, sour cream or cream fraiche could be added if desired.
Strawberry and Feta Salad
- 1 -2 c of mixed greens per guest – I used a mixture that included sorrel, red sorrel, pea tendrils, argula, bibb lettuce, spinach, and a mesclun mix from my garden.
- 3 large strawberries per salad; washed, capped and sliced thin
- 1-2 T feta crumbles per salad
- Layer the greens on the bottom, strawberries on top and dress with the feta crumbles.
Lasagna Rollups with Browned Butter Walnut Sauce
- 5″X9″ pasta sheet, 1 per guest. I used 6
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 1/2 c parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano freshly shredded blend of about half and half
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c fresh parsley, lightly chopped
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Spread ricotta on pasta sheet, roll up like a jelly roll but not to tight to push out the filling.
- Put in a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, covered with either a lid or foil.
- Remove from oven and serve immediately or keep in oven and turn temperature down to 200 until ready to serve. Keep covered.
Ingredients for Sauce
- 1 stick of butter
- 1/2 c of roasted walnut pieces
- 1 cup of shitake and oyster mushrooms
- 1/4 c baby arugula
- Large sage leaf, or 1/3 t dried sage
Directions for Sauce
- Melt butter and add sage in medium saute pan, watching carefully and letting the butter brown but not burn. Swirl the pan occasionally to keep the butter moving and less likely to burn.
- Once browned, remove sage leaf if used and add mushrooms and walnuts and allow to heat through, add arugula just before serving so it is wilted but not overcooked.
- Spoon over lasagna roll up on plate.
Panna Cotta with Black Raspberry Sauce
I’ve actually already featured my panna cotta recipe on my site, so you can find it here… Panna Cotta Recipe
But the raspberry sauce is new, and it’s the foraged star of the show, so I’ll be happy to share how I made it.
Black Raspberry Sauce
- 1 cup of black raspberries, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 c sugar
- 2 T sherry
- Bring raspberries and sugar to a gentle boil, stirring frequently and simmer for about 10 minutes or until berries are soft and easily “mashable”
- Remove from heat, blend or mash by hand, and once slightly cooled, push through cheesecloth or strainer to remove seeds.
- Put juice back in pan and bring back to a gentle boil, adding sherry during cooking. Let cool and serve.
I hope you enjoyed sharing our day of foraging with all of us! I was so excited to also be a 24X24 blogger by Foodbuzz for our foraged dinner! Foodbuzz 24X24 shares a wide variety of 24 meals that are all hosted on the same day around the world and provides a stipend towards the cost. It was truly an honor to be chosen!