Food is back on the Table with a spring menu proposed by Chef Ludmila Girardi, exploring the power of Wild Plants. With spring here, aren’t we all tempted to escape to the meadows, acknowledge the beauty and power of flowers and plants, touch them, smell them, kiss the sun on their petals? We should not hesitate!
But when a Chef proposes a plant-based menu that brings the meadows onto our plates we did not hesitate either. We set the table.
Ludmila’s menu was inspired by a team of foragers from Kent, England, led by founder Miles Irving, whose mission, we read, is: “…hand-picking wild flavours at their peak, full of vitality which speak of the season…enrich and enliven meals. By pairing these super-nutritious and flavoursome wild ingredients with the skills and knowledge possessed by talented chefs, these overlooked treasures have been elevated and put back on our plates.”
A quick note on the food
Don’t let your buds be deceived by the word “ravioli” in the starter. Just imagine the most refreshing crunchy radish, thinly sliced and marinated in meadowsweet vinegar balanced by a nutty smoked tofu filling and a soft touch of garden peas puree and pickled bilberries. The sea buckthorns (an orange wild berry) bring a burst of colour, many health benefits, and a smile.
The smile continues with the main dish as if to mirror the soft semi-circular and circular shapes carved out of green leek veloute and an exquisitely designed gateau, elegantly enhanced with white leek flowers and wild herbs.
The dessert is made of layers upon layers of earthly temptations but what makes it special is the after taste of the pickled rose petals. Or is it the elderberry and meadowsweet conserve hidden between layers of chocolate ganache and pistachio praline?
Behind the scenes – Ludmila shares the secrets of her cooking
This is a collection of quick recipes to showcase the wildness of foraged UK ingredients in a three-course dinner in which I invited the diners to try unusual flavours paired with conventional ones, so they could explore their taste buds, feeling comfortably nourished and at the same time learning about the Kingdom’s flora.
Cooking with foraged plants is really powerful to our imagination and health. Highly seasonal, they bring the freshness of the land and nutrient richness to our kitchen, alongside the yearning spirits of a time we were out there, harvesting to eat. Wild flavours activate wild feelings, exactly those sensations we need to experience more often to keep our minds expanding.
Although the first idea was to offer some comfort food for an end-of-the-week family meal, I thought a delicate expression would best highlight the power of these plants. The idea was also to instigate imagination through plating, using elements that demonstrate these flavours of the season to compose a beautiful presentation and taste experience. Below, you can find a little more about the foraged ingredients we used, with information from the Forager (forager.org.uk).
The creamy sprays of flowers give the plant the name queen of the meadow and were once used to flavour mead a nd ale. Meadowsweet is the plant from which aspirin was first derived. Meadowsweet with organic apple cider vinegar can be used in dressings and sauces or with fruit.
These bilberries were harvested by hand at the start of the summer in their peak and then pickled in an organic vinegar infused with wild spices. A real treat on the cheese board, with cold cuts, pate and all things savoury.
Alexanders are very versatile. Both stalks and leaves can be used for flavouring stocks and stews. The stalks are great braised alongside other strong flavours or in risottos. The leaves can be added to salads as you would herbs.
Sea Buckthorn berry
Sea buckthorn berries are quite tart, sour, close to a sour orange – and incredibly nutritious! Packed with vitamin C (6 times that of oranges), B2, E, and potassium. Intense flavour and nutritional powerhouse – a truly unique little berry! You can make jams, jellies, eat whole, add to breakfasts or smoothies.
Wild garlic season is here! With a milder taste than garlic (similar to chives, to which it is related), this works well in salads, soups and risottos.
Three-cornered garlic flowers
The taste of this delightful foraged plant is somewhere between a leek, garlic and cucumber. Both leaves and flowers can be used in much the same way as you would wild garlic and spring onions – in addition to adding a beautiful aesthetic. Only available for around 6 weeks a year!
Kohlrabi ravioli marinated in meadowsweet vinegar
With a mandolin, cut thin-paper kohlrabi slices and gently coat them with vinegar. Marinate overnight. If you can, every once in a while stir them to keep the juices flowing.
Smoked tofu cream
In a high-speed blender, add broken pieces of a smoked tofu block with some soya milk, just enough to blend until a creamy paste, and some sea salt to taste.
Garden peas purée
Boil frozen or fresh garden peas in vegetable broth for 3-4 min. Transfer them to a blender with a ladle of the broth and puree until smooth. Pass it over a chinois or very thin sieve.
We need to blench the herbs first. Boil salted water and pour it over the herbs, leave it for half a minute, then strain and put the herbs into a bucket with ice-cold water. Tap dry. Add blenched Alexanders into a blender with raw olive oil enough to almost cover them, and blitz. Transfer to a pot and let it infuse at least 24h before serving.
Truffled potato, onions and wild mushrooms gateau
Roast 500g of baking white potatoes in the oven, remove skins and mash with a fork or potato masher. Reserve.
In a food processor, blitz two onions and about 5 cloves of garlic. Remove and do the same with the mushrooms.
Stir-fry the onions and garlic with olive oil until light brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.
Combine the onion and mushroom mix into the potato mash. Season it with 1tbsp of miso and 1tbsp of white truffle oil. Optionally, also add shredded vegan cheese.
Oil a metal ring and put enough of the mix into a portion, depending on the size of your ring. Top it up with panic breadcrumbs and bake it for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Beluga lentils in walnut oil
Boil the lentil until soft in water with some salt and bay leaves. Strain it and add some more sea salt to taste and dress in walnut oil.
Confit leeks purée
Cut the leeks 2cm wide. Place them in a baking tray and add a few cloves of garlic and thyme. Top them up with cooking olive oil and confit in a medium-low oven until they are soft (suggestion is 165 degrees Celsius for about 40min). Separate a few pieces of leek and with the rest blend with one pack of soy cream and a couple of spoons of vegan cream cheese. Season it with some sea salt and black pepper.
Wild garlic sauce
In a blender, add raw wild garlic leaves with one squeezed lemon, olive oil, salt and sugar. Blend until a paste and pass it through a chinois.
Roasted Jerusalem artichoke
Spray some cooking oil over them and roast in a medium-high oven for about 40 minutes until they are nice and soft inside. Season with sea salt and wild garlic sauce.
Grilled purple and white sprouting broccoli
Drizzle some olive oil and sea salt and grill them until al-dente, about 20minutes in a medium-high oven.
- 190g white spelt or all-purpose flour
- 20g raw cacao powder
- 160g muscovado sugar or coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 65g coconut oil, melted, room temp
- 80ml espresso
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 120 ml plant milk
- 120 ml water
Preheat the oven to 175C degrees. Line a cake pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients and, in a separate bowl, mix the wet. Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Bake for around 40 minutes, and check with a toothpick inserted in the middle it comes out clean.
- 150g dark chocolate
- 100ml soya cream
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Melt in the microwave stirring it every 30 seconds being careful not to burn. Heat the soya cream and pour it over the melted chocolate. Leave it for a few seconds before stirring.
- 150g Cashew butter
- 150g hot water
- 250g brown caster sugar
- 1g sodium bicarbonate
- 100g roasted ground pistachio
Place all ingredients in a pan and cook in low heat stirring at all times until caramelised. The more you cook, the more the sugar crystallizes, so the final texture can be of your choosing. I wanted something more crumbled, like sticky candy.