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 May is one of the most beautiful months 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 foxgloves stretch up to the sky and the cape daisies spread the sunshine across the barren patches of the borders. What you’ll also know is that the common weeds, too, are enjoying the lushness of the season. Pesky nettles, goosegrass and ground elder…
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 BBC gardener Alys Fowler at the Wolds Words Festival in Louth about six 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 are pretty basic weeds that a child would recognise – but it’s always worth double-checking first. A great place to start 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 patience, though, 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 border.
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 to, for obvious reasons!
Heat the oil and a large nob of butter in a large frying pan, mix the onions and potatoes well and then add them to the pan and stew gently, partially covered, for roughly 10 minutes. Add the rest of the foraged leaves and leave for another 15 min, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are softened.
Carefully pour the potatoes and veg through a colander into a large bowl and pour the oil back into the pan. Beat 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 min 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 space.
When it’s almost set with a little liquid still visible, take the pan off the heat and leave for 4 min 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 for 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 onto a plate and cool for 10 minutes before serving. Eat and of course, enjoy!
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