Shore way to feast on the wild fron­tier

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - INDULGENCE - Andy Har­ris

AL­MOST ev­ery week­end, weather per­mit­ting, I wan­der Syd­ney’s east­ern shores be­tween Bondi and Maroubra, scav­eng­ing for wild food among the rocks. I can’t re­veal my ex­act spots, al­though some ar­eas around Bondi, Clovelly, Coogee and Lurline Bay are par­tic­u­larly pro­duc­tive, both in and out of the wa­ter.

It’s a ther­a­peu­tic rit­ual, es­pe­cially af­ter a busy week, which usu­ally yields a cou­ple of plas­tic bags brim­ming with a few ki­los of purslane (pig’s foot), wa­ter­cress, dan­de­lion, war­ri­gal greens, nas­tur­tiums, rocket, dan­de­lion and rock sam­phire, all rich in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

Back in the kitchen, the veg­eta­bles have to be thor­oughly washed be­fore be­ing promptly turned into sat­is­fy­ing soups, sal­ads and stews.

Soup is made with the wa­ter­cress, a few pota­toes and stock, and a French bistro-style salade tiede (warm salad) cre­ated with the dan­de­lion leaves, nas­tur­tiums, rocket, pan-fried diced pancetta and crou­tons driz­zled with an unc­tu­ous mus­tard vi­nai­grette.

The war­ri­gal greens (also known as New Zealand spinach) need to be blanched to rid them of their ox­alate com­pounds be­fore sautee­ing in olive oil with a lit­tle onion, homemade sugo (tomato sauce), pot herbs and sea salt col­lected on my trav­els in the Aegean.

I’m still work­ing out how to raise some hens in my tiny back yard so I can have freshly laid eggs for my purslane omelet, and the next time cof­fee prices surge I’m go­ing to try boil­ing some dan­de­lion roots to cre­ate my own er­satz cof­fee essence.

I first dis­cov­ered rock sam­phire (kri­tamo) grow­ing on some coastal cliffs in Evvia, the sec­ond-largest Greek is­land, two hours north­east of Athens, where I held an an­nual cook­ing school in the late 1990s.

Dur­ing the week-long course, which at­tracted Aus­tralians and Brits alike, we joined in the rit­u­als of col­lect­ing horta — wild greens such as black night­shade, mal­low, hop shoots, fat hen, mus­tard and sor­rel — for fill­ing savoury pies and boil­ing with lash­ings of olive oil and lemon juice. We picked kri­tamo for pick­ling in vine­gar, us­ing the aniseed­flavoured seeds and yel­low flow­er­heads in potato and ca­per sal­ads.

We fished for oc­to­pus among the rocks and laid nets ev­ery night, col­lect­ing our of­ten mea­gre catch at dawn. Then we would toss the sko­r­pios (scor­pion fish), hiloutsa (wrasse) and skaros (par­rot­fish) into a black­ened pot over a drift­wood fire on the beach to cre­ate an im­promptu kakavia, the clas­sic Greek fish­er­man’s soup made with sea wa­ter, pota­toes, onions, olive oil and lemon juice.

Once I’m in the wa­ter in Syd­ney, there’s noth­ing to stop my spear­gun ex­cept the catch lim­its. There are cut­tle­fish to be stewed with war­ri­gal greens and sliv­ers of gar­lic, sea urchin roes to add to pasta dishes, and the odd abalone, lud­er­ick, black reef leather­jacket and king­fish wait­ing to be caught.

There’s noth­ing bet­ter than freshly caught sashimi king­fish or a leather­jacket pan-fried with some thinly sliced onions, rose­mary and homemade vine­gar in the clas­sic en­saor style of Venice.

And if you can’t be both­ered spearfish­ing, there are limpets ga­lore on ev­ery rock wait­ing to be prised off with a sharp knife. Just bring a lemon to squeeze over them if you eat them raw and take the larger ones home to grill on a bar­be­cue with gar­lic, as they do in the Azores, where they’re called la­pas, or try them the way the Hawai­ians cook their fa­mous black foot limpet, opihi, pounded like an abalone then rolled in egg and flour and fried.

In fact, there seem to be so many here that I’m think­ing of ex­port­ing them to Hawaii, where they’re such a pop­u­lar pu­pus , or ap­pe­tiser, that stocks are en­dan­gered.

Of course, Mediter­ranean peas­ants have been for­ag­ing for cen­turies. Last year I saw an old man by the road in Bur­gundy pick­ing wild ramps (young gar­lic shoots) to turn into a heady soup, and is­lan­ders in Alicudi — the small­est and most re­mote of the Ae­o­lian is­lands off Si­cily — rush­ing out to pick the funghi that sud­denly sprout all over the steep vol­canic cliffs af­ter the first win­ter rains, for pick­ling, sott’oliostyle, with olive oil, bay leaves and dried chill­ies.

If that’s not enough in­spi­ra­tion to en­cour­age a spot of for­ag­ing, con­sider the celebrity chefs who are fas­ci­nated by the sub­ject.

Sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Ital­ian cook­ing mae­stro An­to­nio Car­luc­cio started it all in 1989 when he pub­lished A Pas­sion­forMush­rooms (Pavil­ion Books). He now makes a de­cent liv­ing out of teach­ing the world all about mush­rooms, and is of­ten sum­moned to Bal­moral by his mate Prince Charles to go funghi for­ag­ing with HRH’s week­end house guests.

You can also blame Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Hugh Fearn­leyWhit­tingstall, who aban­doned Lon­don’s bright city lights for a tum­ble­down farm­house in Devon in the late 1990s. The cult of his River Cot­tage television shows has be­come hard to re­sist. And he has been joined by Tommi Miers and Guy Grieve (in the new Bri­tish TV se­ries TheWildGourmets ), scour­ing the Bri­tish Isles for ed­i­ble de­lights.

There is no need to suc­cumb to su­per­mar­ket en­nui; get the penknives out and start for­ag­ing on your next Bondi to Bronte walk. Andy Har­ris is ed­i­tor-at-large of Aus­tralianGourmetTrav­eller and GourmetTrav­ellerWine mag­a­zines.

Check­list

Three in­dis­pens­able books for earnest for­agers are: Wild­Food by Roger Phillips (Pan Books); Wild­Food in­Aus­tralia by A. B. & J. W. Cribb (Fon­tana) and WildFoodPlantsof Aus­tralia by Tim Low (HarperCollins).

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