There are cars abandoned by the side of the road. Elderly men and women wander slowly, eyes down, feet shuffling gingerly. In the beautiful Piedmontese hills this isn’t the apocalypse – in fact it’s the start of Spring and these are the harbingers of the wild harvest.
Aiming to join in with this select group of foragers, Liz and I set of on Saturday morning to take part in a hands-on lesson in wild herbs and greens. We started in a hill-side field, and after some brief instruction set to picking dandelion leaves and millefoglie. A sunny hour later, the group moved into the nearby forest, where we learnt about bramble shoots, wild garlic, sambuco, cardo and pulmonaria.
As a way to spend a Saturday morning it was glorious, and the surrounding landscape was completely beautiful. I still can’t get over the mountains. On a clear day the Alps float in the distance, demanding attention and awe.
Foraging also turns out to be one of those activities that completely change the way you look at the world. On the walk and for days afterwards I looked with heightened attention at the local landscape. Instead of seeing a nondescript carpet of green I’d see individual leaves and plants, looking for anything potentially edible. It was a revelation.
In the afternoon Liz took her new skills into the garden and came back with a huge haul of edibles, including wild chives, violet and primrose flowers.
We’d already decided that morning to use the harvested greens in a savoury tart. The gist of the recipe is below. For those foraging in the supermarket rather than a Piedmontese hillside, almost any other kind of leafy green will work in this tart. Similarly regular garlic can be exchanged for the wild variety.
The wild greens (primarily dandelion, millefoglie and bramble shoots) turned out to have a flavour somewhere between spinach, asparagus and kale. The slight bitterness was definitely eased by the cheesy egg mix. The whole thing was underwritten by the wild garlic and chives and for an experiment the tart turned out remarkably well.
As the flower-strewn tart landed on the dinner table, my Italian uncle looked at it and exclaimed ‘Ah, Torta Primavera!’
Blind bake shortcrust pastry to make a case for the tart.
Mix 6 eggs with a small splash of milk and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese or thick cream. Grate a quantity of pecorino cheese into the mix, along with a tablespoon of chopped chives and some black pepper.
In a frying pan, wilt the wild garlic leaves and the greens. Add this to the egg mix then pour the lot into the pastry case.
Sprinkle more chives, grated pecorino and pine nuts over the top of the tart. Bake at 180º C until set (around 20 minutes).
P.S. I also wanted to give a little update on the current kitchen situation. It’s a slight improvement on the last kitchen, in fact I’m fairly sure our whole room in Belgium would fit into Liz’s kitchen! Here it is: