24 Feb Never enough
The days are dawning milder and frequent showers douse the landscape causing the golden red hues of tall grasses covering the hillside to glow with subtle intensity. When the drops cease, an illuminated mist settles into the pockets between cedars in the grove. Spring is on its way and there is a call to action in the air.
It’s a reflective season. In spring we glimpse a resurrection. In the face of so much potential comes the chance to review and revise those exalted resolutions we made in the dark of winter.
For as long as I can remember there has been a choir in my head singing the refrain never enough. It has led to a lifetime of striving, of reaching beyond what feels possible. And to be honest, recently beset by a critical fatigue, I’m weary of wanting more, of wanting better. Good enough would be a welcome break from the hounding cry of not quite there, not quite there yet, that reverberates in the hollows of my mind. If it’s a self-imposed pressure, why is it so hard to shake?
And yet it is that insatiate hunger that led the daughter of carpenters out of the dairy farmed New England countryside and that now finds her hunting wild butterbur in western Japan. And I suppose I ought to credit that nagging voice, the one that says there must be more, there must be a broader, richer, fuller experience, for so many of the opportunities I’ve wandered into. Like wild butterbur pasta on my plate four times this week.
It’s a bit late for butterbur, or what we call fukinoto. But we are still harvesting a secondary variety that grows looser, the head of blossoms snuggled in a mantle of soft, soft leaves. Even at a mature stage, large and blooming, it has a lot of potential in the kitchen.
Last week H went off to collect fukinoto on a drizzly afternoon. Blanched, roughly chopped and mixed with olive oil and walnuts, she offered us a lovely pasta dish to finish out dinner that day. But we got to talking. Wouldn’t the bitter bite of fukinoto benefit from the dulcet embrace of a bit of parmesan? And we considered the texture. How about chopped finer? Or perhaps blended into a paste à la pesto? And what of the color, I wondered. Fukinoto swiftly oxidizes to a dirty brown. How could we preserve the bright green, the green of hope, the green of spring, the green of new beginnings?
That hunger settled in. I wanted to try my hand at the adjustments we had considered. So I went for it, blanching the fukinoto and blending them up exactly as I would a pesto (omitting garlic). The results were less than stellar, a spectacularly dull shade and dry. I ruminated further, grabbed a lemon from the tree, altered my approach and tried again the next day to much better effect.
Today Kuniko and I gathered another armful of fukinoto. I scanned the patch. Most were gone by, large and blooming, pale green tinged with yellow. It was only my intent to gather the last remaining small, tender buds to batter and deep fry for dinner tonight. Kuniko started plucking them up one by one. “No, no, they’re still good,” she said, wading into a thicket of tangled branches. “Use the best ones for tempura and then we’ll simmer the rest with soy and make tsukudani.” She picked every last one. Never enough.
Some thoughts on butterbur pasta:
Roughly chop some walnuts and grate some parmesan.
Prepare ¼ cup of lemon juice.
Blanch the fukinoto and shock in ice water.
Swiftly wring out as much water as possible with your hands, wring again wrapped in a paper towel, then mix with the lemon juice.
Roughly chop by hand, mix to distribute the lemon juice, then wring out excess lemon juice by hand.
Mix chopped fukinoto with plenty of good olive oil.
Boil pasta, drain and coat with good olive oil. Add chopped walnuts, parmesan, a pinch of salt and mix. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the fukinoto and mix.
Arrange in a pasta bowl and top with more fukinoto.