With no races looming and the lockdown set to continue I felt it was an ideal time to revisit my running, analyse a couple of the poor recent races and iron out the issues. I’d gone lazy, time on feet shuffling along in ultra plod mode meant that although I was enjoying my time outdoors, I wasn’t profiting in any races. It’s too early to write about any benefits but I will say that focusing on using the glutes correctly has helped with posture and ‘spring’ in the step and this has resulted in an improved “feel” in each run.
What I will reveal though is something that I have dabbled in for years, but now, with time on my hands, I’ve flung myself at it. Wild food.
Running along trails and country footpaths throughout the year, spring is the most dynamic and uplifting season. I’ve never run with headphones, nature is my soundtrack. I never tick off the miles, I tick off sights and observations. Right now is an ideal time to see the new growth unfurling and right now is an ideal time to pick and eat it.
Twenty years ago I made a clumsy start, walking along with a Countryside Ranger “and that’s comfrey” he pointed, I bent and picked a leaf before popping in in my mouth. “But I wouldn’t pick it from where a dog has taken a pee” he said. My chewing slowed.
Since then I’ve made soups, stir frys, pestos and wraps with wild greens. Now, thanks to the lockdown I’ve more time on my hands to explore this free food source. I am pleased to say that the results have been deliciious.
Spanakopitta. Whilst this Greek greens pie is associated with spinach and filo pastry, I wanted to try a frugal, local version. Whilst the young nettles are pushing up, nip off the top leaves and stem. I loosely filled a carrier bag (don’t forget to wear gloves), took them home and soaked them whilst pan frying some onion with cumin seeds and thyme. I gave the nettles a quick 2 minute blanch in salted boiling water. Drain and when they’re cool try one….the stem is a bit ‘asparagassy’ if you ask me. Squeeze excess water out and roughly chop before adding to onions in the pan. Dollop in some roughly chopped almonds, crumbled up feta, lemon juice, salt and pepper and after a couple more minutes break in a couple of eggs. At this stage I tasted it and felt it needed more oomph so I chucked in ground nutmeg and oregano. I let it stand and cool whilst working on the pastry. Spanakopitta calls for filo pastry but I don’t want to queue for such an indulgence. A not too dissimilar casing can be created by rolling shop bought puff pastry so that it’s twice the area of its unrolled state. I put the pastry in a baking try, topped it with the nettle / onion mix and dropped a layer of pastry on the top, crimping it shut along the edges. After pricking vents it went into the oven and baked until golden (about 40 mins).
Taste? My word it was one of the finest vegetarian dishes I have tasted. If you’re of the opinion that Greggs is the last word in savoury pastries then give this a go. For the price of one Greggs slice you have eight homemade slices. Moreover it’s local, hearty and healthy and far tastier. Your body and mind will thank you.
Suitably buoyed I’ve been trying many other new dishes. Young leaves (dandelion, chickweed, goose grass, even ground elder) have been nibbled in salads. Easter Monday dropped cold so it was chance to make a soup. I’d got two wizzened parsnips left, they were chopped into a pan to saute with an onion and garlic. Bang in a few more Mediterranean herbs and then several handfuls of nettle, goosegrass and dandelion. A cup of veg stock and simmer before chopping up with a stick blender and again, another taste sensation, the sweetness of the parsnip combining beautifully with the earthiness of the greens.
In terms of goodness, they are more nutrient dense than most cultivated greens and given that they are most prolific in areas that best suit them, it follows that they are making the most of their ‘terroir’ so to speak. Picking wild greens connects you to place, it’s gently stimulating, nourishing and of course cheap.
In the past I’ve only looked out for blackberries, mushrooms or sloes in season when I’ve been out running. Now I’m keeping my eyes open for all manner of culinary possibilities.