Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Foraged Recipe: Milkweed Shoot, Pancetta, & Ramp Sallet

This is the kind of dish that keeps me foraging. I would go so far as to say it's the kind of dish that represents the lifestyle I aspire to lead: meals made with a mix of wild edibles and high-quality, healthy (mostly) store-bought ingredients. Meals that are quick enough for weeknights, but make dinner feel like a special occasion. Meals that are so good, and so easy, that I will never order take-out Chinese again.

I'm not there yet, but this was a great start.

This dish could better be called: things I picked at the park, mixed with all the bits and pieces left over in my fridge--and it tastes great! But let's face it, sallet is more succinct. A sallet is a mixture of cooked greens, as opposed to a raw-greens salad. Like salads, sallets are pretty versatile, and if you are missing any of these ingredients, feel free to experiment with substitutions, or go without. The core flavors here are milkweed (but you could use green beans or broccoli), pancetta (or bacon or ham), and ramps (or spring onion/scallion).

Crown-tipped coral mushroom. Some coral mushrooms
are toxic, know what you are harvesting.
Since this was a "bit of everything" meal, I tossed in odds & ends, both from the woods and from the bowels of my fridge. I added a small coral mushroom (second one this year--already!), and an absolutely tiny dryad's saddle (less than 1" across). I had 9 sundried tomatoes left in the fridge--what can I do with 9 sundried tomatoes? Into the pan! That sort of thing.
Ramps are usually past at this point, but we were fortunate enough to be able to pick out 3 large handfuls of still-green leaves from our large patch--it took a while to find the good ones though!

The edible milkweed here is the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Common milkweed shoots are not the easiest edible to identify; I plan on doing a post about them in the near future. They have a potentially deadly look-alike, dogbane. It is pretty easy to tell milkweed from dogbane, with a few tips, but even when you rule out the dogbanes, there are a host of potentially toxic milkweeds which are harder to determine. If you do not know how to ID common milkweed, please check with experts and/or books, a meal (no matter how tasty) is not worth the risk!

Common milkweed tastes kind of like a broccoli/green bean hybrid, so if you can't identify or can't find milkweed, try one of those.

Milkweed Shoot, Pancetta & Ramp Sallet

for 2, can be doubled

22-30 young milkweed shoots,
   leaves removed
1" thick slab of pancetta, cut into small cubes
9 sundried tomatoes, diced
15 ramp leaves, give or take,
   or substitute 6 scallions, sliced thinly
4-8 oz mushrooms,
   wild, cremini, or shitake, diced
  1. Cut your milkweed shoots into approximately 2" lengths. Bring a pot of water to boil, (enough to cover the shoots). Once boiling, add the milkweed shoots and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally. After draining, run cold water over them, to stop the cooking process.
  2. Add the cubed pancetta to a non-stick fry-pan over medium-high heat. Brown on all sides. 
  3. Add the mushrooms to the pancetta, reduce heat to medium. 
  4. After about a minute, when the mushrooms have just started to release their liquid, add the sundried tomatoes and ramps or scallions. 
  5. After the mixture has cooked for about 10 minutes, and the mushrooms and pancetta are done, add in the cooked milkweed. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes longer, to really get the flavors mixed in together. 
  6. Serve immediately. Can be served over cooked rice or pasta dressed with olive oil & garlic; doing so will stretch the meal for 4 people. 


  1. I would be careful with the milkweed foraging, since milkweed supplies are dwindling for our beautiful monarch butterflies! Farmers' pesticides are killing them off and monarch populations are dwindling as a result. We raise monarchs and are trying to do our part to help their population!

    1. Yes in other posts I emphasized harvesting only from well-established populations, never taking more than 10% of the shoots, and not harvesting a shoot from the same plant 2 years in a row. Milkweed is essential for the life of Monarch butterfly, and also critical to the health of honey and bumble bees.

      Sadly, despite my ethical harvesting, this entire patch is now gone (it used to cover half an acre of land). The town of Andover decided to burn it all, as tick-containing "weeds"