Thursday, June 13, 2013

Foraged Milkweed Minestrone Recipe

So, the season for milkweed shoots is passing, and the season for milkweed buds begin. The flowerbuds of milkweed are many people's favorite part of the plant, though I think I personally prefer the shoots. The flavor of the buds is similar to that of the shoots (a mixture of broccoli and green beans), but the texture is very much like that of over-sized broccoli florets. The buds do best with a quicker cooking than the shoots, but they should still be blanched to remove the chalky taste of the sap.

Remember, don't take all of the flower buds. I usually take one per plant. Taking more than that will rob you of the opportunity to harvest both the edible flowers and the edible seed pods later in the season. It will also prevent the milkweed from any chance of reproducing this year.

Taking the flower buds doesn't hurt or kill the individual plant, (like taking the shoot does), and thus you can harvest the buds--in moderation--from smaller patches of milkweed.
When harvesting milkweed buds, it is essential that you check for small monarch caterpillars. The milkweed family is the only food which young monarchs can eat, and they are frequently found crawling around the buds. Simply relocate them to a new home on another part of the plant. . 

Minestrone is a classic Italian soup made from seasonal vegetables. It has no set recipe, but is made from whatever is on-hand. This version is vegetarian, and can be made vegan by substituting vegan pasta and omitting the Parmesan (or use vegan cheese). 

Milkweed Minestrone Recipe

Serves 4-6 as a main course, 10 as a starter

3 cups of milkweed flowerbuds, rinsed
2 leeks, outer leaves removed, roughly chopped (use the dark green part of the leek as well)
4 stalks of celery, diced
1 small bunch of leafy greens, about 3 cups, roughly chopped (spinach, kale, chard or wild greens)
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium red potato, diced
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of dry small pasta (mini shells are used here, nothing larger than elbow macaroni)
2 cans of white beans, rinsed
2 cups vegetable stock (homemade or quality store-bought)
4 cups of water
3 bay leaves
1 tbs angostura bitters
vegetable oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
basil & parsley (fresh is better, but dry will do)
fresh Parmesan and/or bread for serving
  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, (enough to cover the buds). Once boiling, add the milkweed buds and blanch for 30-40 seconds, stirring occasionally. After draining, run cold water over them, to stop the cooking process.
  2. In a large stockpot, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and celery. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes. 
  3. When the leeks and celery are softened, add the potato, the zucchini, and the garlic. Stir and continue to cook for a minute more. 
  4. Add the water, stock and the pasta. The liquid should just barely cover the vegetables and pasta. Add a little more if necessary. 
  5. Add the bay leaves, the bitters and season with salt and pepper. If you are using dried herbs, add them now--about 1/2 tsp. each is good.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is done and the potatoes are soft. Check periodically after 10 minutes.
  7. If you are using fresh herbs, add them now--about 1/4 cup of each would be good. Stir in the leafy greens and the blanched milkweed and cook for about 1-2 minutes, until the greens are done. Remove from heat. 
  8. Add the beans and stir. Taste, adding more seasonings as necessary. Let sit for a minute for the beans to come to temperature and for the flavors to meld. Remove bay leaves and serve, with fresh bread and Parmesan cheese, if you so desire. 
  • Angostura bitters are most commonly known for making drinks, particularly the manhattan. But they are also a component of Italian cooking, used frequently with soups that contain beans, such as minestrone an pasta e fagioli. Bitters add an umami element, enhancing the meaty flavor of a dish--even if the dish doesn't contain meat. Try adding a few drops to your next bean or mushroom dish. 

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