Toil, Toil, Boil and Bubble: Burdock – The Witch’s Root

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February 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Melissa Graham

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I usually don’t like to include involved, elaborate recipes on this site, ones with a lot of steps or unusual ingredients. I make an exception when I make something so good out of an ingredient that is as ugly as it is difficult to tame. So when I created a delicious dish out of the ugliest root in existence, I thought it was worth sharing.

Even the word, burdock, conjures images of witches over a cauldron stirring potions that will turn their enemies into scaly, slimy beasts. It doesn’t help that it looks like a utensil to be used for this purpose.

Research on the root doesn’t present any more of an appealing image. Burdock is a biennial thistle whose dark green leaves can grow up to 18-inches in length. The edible portion, i.e. the roots, is food for the larva of the Ghost Moth and other Lepidoptera, such as The Gothic, Lime-speck Pug and Scalloped Hazel according to Wikipedia. Over at Botanical.com, Mrs. M. Grieve calls its taste “sweetish and mucilaginous.”

There’s little surprise, that burdock, which had been referred to in several of Shakespeare’s plays, has fallen out of fashion in European cultures in recent centuries. Burdock does remain popular in Japan, where it is known as gobo, and has experienced a slight resurgence of popularity in western cuisine because of macrobiotics, which recommends its consumption. For the rest of us, burdock remains a relative unknown. It’s grown locally and available at Whole Foods and occasionally through Fresh Picks from Harmony Valley in Wisconsin. Raw, burdock has a slightly bitter taste, which can be softened by soaking in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes prior to cooking. It also is best thinly shaved either by an adjustable vegetable slicer or with a vegetable peeler. The appearance of shaved burdock, a little like linguine, was the inspiration for the following recipe:

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Mushroom Braised Burdock with Soba Noodles, Mushrooms & Fresh Ricotta
Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as an appetizer

This recipe has such an earthy quality to it because of the combination of the burdock, mushrooms & buckwheat of the noodles. It can easily be converted to a vegan recipe by substituting the butter for oil and omitting the ricotta cheese.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced ¼-inch thick
4 burdock stalks
2 cups mushroom stock, recipe follows
2 shallots
¼ cup Madeira
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
¼ pound soba noodles
¼ cup fresh ricotta

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until melted. Add ½ of the sliced mushrooms and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until lightly browned and remove to a bowl. Repeat with remaining butter and mushrooms. Turn the heat under the mushrooms to medium heat, add previously cooked mushrooms, add Madeira, bring to a simmer and reduce slightly. Turn the heat off. Fill a medium shallow bowl with cold water. Scrub clean or peel the burdock root. Shave it with a vegetable peeler, dropping the shaved pieces into the cold water. There will be some waste. Bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil. In a medium saucepan, bring the mushroom stock to a vigorous simmer. Add burdock and cook until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Salt the boiling water and drop the soba noodles in; cook for 6-7 minutes. In the meantime, add the burdock and stock to the mushrooms and reduce the liquid until almost evaporated. Taste for seasoning and add kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drain the noodles, add to the mushroom mixture and toss to coat. Serve in shallow bowls topped with clouds of ricotta.

Mushroom Stock

Stems from 2 pounds of mushrooms
¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 sprig thyme

METHOD: Cover the ingredients with 2 inches water in a medium sauce pan. Bring the water to a simmer and cook for 1 hour.

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