Discovering Wild Food
The Wild Table asks: would you like some adventure with your risotto?
Connie Green looks out her window and doesn’t see grass, landscape, and trees. She sees lunch.
“In my house in the hills overlooking Napa, I can look out my window and see all the ingredients for a salad,” says Green, co-author of The Wild Table, a hybrid that’s part cookbook and part field guide to the bounty of food all around us.
For some 30 years, Green has been taking Bay Area chefs, adventurers, and foodies of all stripes on hikes through forests and fields to rediscover the richness of scrumptious foods that grow wild — elderberries, mushrooms, dandelions, nettles, rose hips and much more.
Wild and Wonderful
Green has been responsible for winning over some of the best-known names in the food world to wild ingredients including The French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller, who writes in the book’s foreword that wild-grown foods are “capable of elevating any dish in which they are introduced.”
Now Green and her co-author Chef Sarah Scott have teamed up for The Wild Table, which not only tells you what’s worth putting on your table, but offers sumptuous ways to prepare what you forage.
“Our criteria for the book was not just to feature things that are edible — lots of things are edible — but to focus on things that are delicious,”
Some people want their ingredients vetted by a grocery store, others though yearn to see the world as it was seen by our ancestors — as a pantry, she says.
Scott is a beloved Napa Valley chef, who has been preparing memorable meals at events at Shafer Vineyards and many other wineries since the 1980s. When she and Green first talked about the book, the chef was thrilled by the challenge.
“There were ingredients here I’d never worked with before such as elder flower and blewits,” says Scott. “My number one goal with each of the recipes was to really show off each ingredient. And then I wanted to create recipes that were user friendly — not so chef-y that they couldn’t be worked into daily life.”
The team of Green and Scott brainstormed for a long time to identify what was special about each of the ingredients and then spent more than a year in Scott’s kitchen developing recipes that would
showcase their qualities.
“With persimmons for example, which I love,” says Green, “we wanted to show them off in all their unctuous, ooey orangeness and so we came up with a trifle, which is a cookie that gives you the persimmon almost raw. It’s wonderful.”
As the book was coming together, the duo was very aware of how wine would pair with their recipes. This awareness came partly from living in wine country, but mostly because they share an enthusiasm for hunting Chanterelle mushrooms and making risotto over a fire — out in the wild — accompanied by a bottle of wine.
“That’s how God intended risotto to be made,” Green says.Chef Scott finds delicious affinities with Shafer wines and many of the recipes in The Wild Table.
“A good one is Shafer Merlot — it’s mellow and earthy, with a softness that made me think of our Ribeye with Porcini,” she says.
Scott believes the porcini’s earthy creaminess and the ribeye’s fatty, mellow deliciousness make a very nice dance partner with Merlot.
“For a lot of the same reasons, I’d pair it with the Panini with Porcini and Teleme.”
Green says the Chanterelle Quail Polenta would be a great fit with Merlot as well. “It’s got bacon in it and we’re bacon freaks.”
With Relentless, Chef Scott looks first at its intensity. “It’s got darker, richer fruit. It’s concentrated and spicy and I think the Venison with Elderberry Sauce would be delicious.”
When it comes to matching food and wine, Scott tries not to overcomplicate things.
“Overall I look for balance within the dishes — savory to acidity to salt. When it comes to wine, I’m looking for balance, a feeling about how the elements will work together.”
Along that line, Green suggests the recipe for Braised Short Ribs with Stuffed Morels, which she considers a hard-to-beat combination with Relentless.
“There is food all around us hiding in plain sight,” says Green. “I spoke to a group of master gardeners the other day and I held up a vase of chickweed and they all groaned because they all pull it up. What they didn’t know is that it’s delicious. My message to them is, ‘eat your weeds.’”
Both Scott and Green believe passionately that not only are these wild ingredients flavorful, but they’re full of healthy goodness.
“Most of the ingredients we work with in the book grow in rich, forest soils,” says Green. “They are nutritionally dense, complex foods.”
The Wild Table is published by Viking Studio and is available online and in bookstores nationwide.