Along the Grapevine


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Savoury Ramps Pastries

DSC03053This is turning out to be a great year for ramps (aka wild leeks or wild garlic). The cool weather has prolonged the season and I had the good fortune to have access to a bonanza of this seasonal delicacy on the property of a kind and gracious friend. If you don’t have access to them, you are likely to find them at good markets in any area where they are grown. For information on how to identify and pick them refer to this post here.DSC03059.JPG

I used a good bunch of them to ferment, perhaps my favourite use of them, but with so many I had the perfect opportunity to devise a new recipe. Sauteed ramps mixed with eggs and bechamel baked in a puff pastry made a simple yet elegant appetizer. No need for any extraneous ingredients – the ramps work just fine on their own.

Savoury Ramps Pastries

Ingredients

3 Tpsp olive oil

6 cups ramps, chopped

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

1 cup milk

4 eggs

1 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

1 pound puff pastry dough

Method

Sautee the ramps in the oil until just cooked – about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and gradually add the milk, continuing to stir and cook over a medium heat until the sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Divide the pastry in two and roll out each half on a floured surface to fit a pan measuring 9 x 12 inces (or equivalent). Line the pan with one half. Beat three eggs, then add the cream sauce, sauteed ramps, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture onto the pastry and cover with the second sheet. Secure the top edges to the bottom layer to prevent the top layer from shrinking. Brush the top with 1 beaten egg. Bake in a 400 degree F. oven for about half an hour, until the pastry is puffy and golden.

Cut the pastry in serving size pieces with a sharp knife.

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This can be served warm or at room temperature, as a side, appetizer or main dish. It also freezes well and makes a perfect picnic treat.

Linked to Fiesta Friday, Safari of the Mind and Fabulous Fare Sisters.

 


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A Mushroom Dish from Russia

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A local forager had collected an impressive amount of maitake mushrooms (grifola frondosa), and I jumped at the chance to take some off her hands. In this part of the world, apart from in Asian supermarkets, they are more commonly known as hen-of-the-woods, probably because of their clusters of spoon shaped caps resembling fluffed-up chicken feathers.

Native to Japan and North America they are found in wooded areas growing at the base of trees, oaks, elms and sometimes maples. They feed off the rotting roots of the trees, and when found are often abundant. They have long been recognized in Asia for their medicinal properties, and here they are increasingly popular as a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fibres and amino acid. I had never cooked with them before, but the wonderful woodsy aroma that filled my car on the way home indicated I was in for a treat.

I cooked a few immediately in a pasta dish just to try them out. Robust in flavour and firm in texture, they were unlike any other mushrooms I knew of.

I decided to dehydrate the bulk of them, as mushrooms always seem to benefit from the drying process in concentrating their flavour. These required about 8 hours, depending on how thick you cut them, at 135 F or until they are brittle.

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I set aside a few to make a recipe I have been wanting to make for a long time – a dish I used to have in Russia called julienne. I know that usually refers to a method of cutting vegetables, but the Russians adopted many French terms in the old days, making their own original dishes, and this is one of them. It consists of mushrooms cooked in a rich creamy sauce, and served piping hot in little clay pots or sometimes in a pastry shell.

I have no recipe for this, but worked with my memory of how it tasted. I made it a little less rich by using yogurt instead of sour cream, and to prevent it from being too runny, I first strained the yogurt through a couple of layers of cheesecloth for a couple of hours to remove the excess whey. The result was a little more tart than the julienne I remember in Moscow, and not quite as smooth and creamy, but I actually liked it just as well, especially considering I made more than just a little ‘pot’ of it and didn’t want to over-indulge. The cheddar cheese is also a Canadian touch which, in my opinion, works brilliantly.

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Julienne Mushrooms

Ingredients

oil for frying

5 Tbsp finely chopped onion

2 cups julienned mushrooms

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup white wine

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup cream (35% fat)

2 cups yogurt, strained

3 Tbsp finely grated hard cheese, such as cheddar
Method

Fry the onion and mushrooms until the onions are soft and transluscent. Add the seasonings and white wine and heat through to let the alcohol evaporate. Stir in the cornstarch, then the cream and the strained yogurt. Place in oven proof ramekins or a single dish, sprinkle with the grated cheese, and broil until lightly browned and bubbly.


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It is delicious served hot as an appetizer or a side dish. I also tried it cold as a spread with cucumbers.

You can use any kind of good quality, fresh mushroom for this dish, but if you come across these meaty maitakes, I hope you’ll give them a try.


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Elderflowers Two Ways

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I have always associated elderberry (sambucus nigra) with Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The delicate elderflower syrup was an import and a bit of a luxury to me. So when I discovered that it does grow here in Ontario, I determined to find some before the beautiful flowers disappeared.

This large shrub or tree can grow to about 6 meters high and wide. It has clusters of dainty white five-petalled flowers. The leaves are pointed and serrated, and about two inches in length. It grows in sunny, moist areas, usually near swamps, rivers or lakes. They have a pleasant but mild scent.

The leaves, stems and unripe berries are toxic. The flowers are rich in bioflavonoids, and have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. The one contraindication for them is that because they reduce blood sugar levels, they are not recommended for diabetics. If you are interested in reading more on the health effects, refer to this site.

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To pick them, it is recommended to pick just one cluster of flowers from each branch so that the rest can produce berries. Lightening the load a bit will not only not harm the plant, but will remove some of the excess growth. Wild plants need a little pruning sometimes too.

Once properly identified, the clusters are easy to remove. And just a few will go a long way.

They can be dried, fermented, infused, baked or fried. To start with my first batch I decided to make a simple syrup and some fritters.

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First I checked each flower for any insects and gave them a gentle shake. I did not wash them as they are delicate and didn’t want to wash away any of the flavour.

To make the syrup, I simply snipped off the umbrels (or individual clusters) and put them in a pot and covered them with water. I brought the water to a boil, strained the lot through a fine sieve lined with a paper towel.  Once the flowers are in boiling water, they turn yellow and develop a delicious aroma.

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I returned the hot liquid to the pot and added sugar, about 1/2 cup for 4 cups of liquid, at which point the yellow became even deeper. Heat just enough to dissolve and pour into a clean jar. This syrup will  not have a long shelf life, but refrigerated will last about a week. A small amount like this can be consumed in no time.

To serve, I mixed about 1 part syrup with 3-4 parts soda water, A little ice and you have yourself a refreshing and nutritious drink.

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For the fritters, I used a recipe which can be found here. The batter is a simple mixture of 4 Tbsp of plain flour, and enough sparkling water to make a thin batter. I used 10 Tbsp, slightly less than the recipe called for.

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Dip the umbrels in the batter and deep fry them for about 1-2 minutes. When the flowers become stiff, but before they brown, they are ready. Drain them well on absorbent paper.

For the sauce, I mixed together some crabapple paste, chipotle sauce and a little olive oil. The mixture of 1 tsp each of salt and sugar along with a spicy sauce really make these little fritters special.

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With the remaining flowers I have collected, I am thinking of fermenting some to make an elderflower ‘bubbly’, drying some for tea, and perhaps using some of my syrup to make a soda. More on that later

Elderflowers Two Ways on Punk Domestics


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Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells

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I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect there won’t be many wild grapes along the grapevine this year thanks probably to a frost in late May. On the bright side, the leaves are doing fine and at their best for picking now and for the next couple of weeks.

As I have described in past posts at this time of year, the leaves can be preserved easily by freezing after blanching lightly. For a change I decided to use fresh leaves for this recipe, but frozen or preserved in brine, which is how they are usually sold in markets, would work just as well.

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So for Fiesta Friday #72 I wanted to share some of my delectable harvest in the form of a shell for quiche. The custard is a very simple cream, egg and vegetable mixture. You can choose from any type of seasonal vegetable, but I decided to roast the vegetable first. If you have milkweed flowers available, they make a perfect pairing with the flavour of grape leaves, and can usually be harvested in roughly the same place at the same time. However, asparagus would be a fine alternative, and if you live in a part of the world where neither is available, any vegetable will do. But if you are picking milkweed, please bear in mind – given that most milkweed plants have six flowers, you should leave at least three on any given plant so that it will bloom and feed the pollinators, notably monarch butterflies. They should be picked before they open, while they are still green or just beginning to develop a rosy hue.

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To make these quiches which I baked in muffin tins, first snip off any stem from the base, then brush the bottom side – the side where you can see the veins – with olive oil. Place them in the pans, bottom side up and slightly overlapping. In muffin tins I used two large leaves or three small ones.

Brush the vegetables with oil and roast until tender. For the custard, mix thoroughly 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used feta). Stir in about 1/2 cup roasted vegetables chopped.

Fill the leaves with the mixture and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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The leaf ‘pastry’ will be brown and crispy. The flavour of the grape leaf is what makes these little quiches so special.

Related Posts:

Devilled Eggs with Milkweed Flowers;  Milkweed Bud Fetuccine;  Milkweed Flowers and Lambsquarters Soup;

Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables;  Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce;  Grape Leaf. Herb and Yogurt Pie;  Vegetarian Dolmas;  Dolmas with Meat.


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Fermented Sunchoke Dip (Vegan) for Fiesta Friday’s First Anniversary

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It’s Friday, and that means it is time to head over to Angie’s place at The Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday. This week is even more special though, since it is the 52nd, thus completing a full year of fun, recipe-sharing and meeting dozens of talented bloggers who all contribute to making this such a popular and successful event. To mark this milestone our fabulous hostess Angie is dedicating two weeks to the celebration. This first week we are asked to bring the starters, i.e. drinks and appetizers, while next week we will present the main dishes and desserts. I have noticed there has been a lot of buzz over the past few days, so I expect it is going to be a smash. You are welcome to join us and bring an original dish of your own by Wednesday. Just follow the simple guidelines as outlined here. If you haven’t prepared anything, you are still welcome to come and join the party where you will see what all the buzz is about.

As co-host, along with my compatriot from the west Julianna at Foodie on Board, I will try to make myself useful, so if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

I would also like to extend a big thank you to Angie for organizing this weekly party. She has been such an inspiration, and provided a venue where we have been able to make new friends, share ideas and support for one another, and jolly up the whole blogging experience for so many. I therefore suggest we help ourselves to a drink and toast our dear host before going any further!

And now for my offering to the celebration. It is an appetizer to be served with crackers or vegetables, inspired by that ever so popular recipe for artichoke dip. I have made mine with fermented Jerusalem artichokes, a rich (creamless) creamy dip with lots of flavour and healthful at the same time.

I have been using Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, quite a bit, but some readers are still not convinced to eat them. I took the recipe for the ferment from this post where the problems of sunchokes are candidly outlined, and it seems that fermenting them resolves the problem. I believe it!

If you are not familiar with this odd little vegetable, this is what it looks like.

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Once I fermented a jar of them, the dip was simple enough to make.

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I used one part sunchokes, 1/2 part raw cashews soaked in water, and 1/4 part steamed and chopped greens. I used Swiss chard, but spinach, kale, arugula, or just about any green would work well. I blended the drained nuts and sunchokes until smooth, and then mixed in the greens. There is enough flavour and seasoning in the ferment that you need add nothing else, other than perhaps a little garnish of paprika or sumac powder.

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Grape Leaf, herb and yogurt pie

I just returned from my last harvest of wild grape leaves. They are getting a little tough looking, although I found some good ones in shady areas. We are in zone 5a, so I presume here or in colder zones, the leaves are still good for picking and preserving. Otherwise, you might find preserved ones in some specialty markets.

This recipe for grape leaf pie is one of the best reasons I know for collecting and using grape leaves. I have copied it from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, and though I have tried to make a different version using more of my own local ingredients, his original remains my favourite. Actually, he found it in an old book called Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan, published in 1995. The combination of grape leaves with dill, mint, lemon and yogurt give it a true Mediterranean flavour even with most of the ingredients coming from local sources.The only variations I made was to add a little lemon zest and parsley to the breadcrumb topping, walnuts instead of pine nuts (because that’s what I had) and  chestnut flour instead of rice flour for no particular reason.

Grape Leaf Pie Recipe

Serves 4

20 to 25 grape leaves

4 shallots, finely chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 cup Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve

2 1/2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

3 tbsp finely chopped dill

4 tbsp finely chopped mint

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and black pepper

1/2 cup rice flour

3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the grape leaves in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Then remove the leaves from the water and dry them well with a tea towel. Use scissors to trim off and discard the bit of hard stalk at the base of each leaf.

Saute the shallots in 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, or until light brown, Leave to cool down.

Take a round and shallow ovenproof dish that is roughly 8 inches in diameter, and cover its bottom and sides with grape leaves, slightly overlapping them and allowing the leaves to hang over the rim of the dish. Mix the melted butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; use about two-thirds of this to generously brush the leaves lining the dish.

Mix together in a bowl the shallots, yogurt, pine nuts, chopped herbs and lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rice flour and mix well until  you get a homogenous paste.  Spread this paste evenly in the baking dish.

Fold the overhanging grape leaves back over the top of the filling so they cover the edges, then cover the filling completely with the remaining grape leaves. Brush with the rest of the butter and oil mix. Finally, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the leaves crisp up and the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warmish or at room temperature, with a dollop of fresh yogurt.

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