Boar Hunting, Michael Pollan’s mentor, and Wild Fennel Cakes
Andrea Blum, Special to Beyond Organic
April 19, 2006
Like Michael Pollan’s transformative adventure in wild boar hunting – detailed in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine cover story and in his new book, The Omnivores Dilemma – I, too, have felt the rush and fear of wild boar hunting.
A couple of years ago, I found myself in the swamps of Florida around Lake Okeechobee with two hunters. One was a sheriff from a small town near Miami and the other was longshoreman from the port. The two were from opposite ends of the political spectrum, one had a particular bias against colored skin and had never met a Jew, and the other fought for workers rights and listened to public radio. Somehow, the two were great friends. Hunting and the Second Amendment brought them together.
Pollan’s account of his hunting experience – a journey which included creating a ‘perfect’ meal entirely hunted, gathered or grown by Pollan himself - left me with a modicum of envy. Entirely unlike my companions, his included a French chef from Chez Panisse – the iconic Berkeley restaurant – and Angelo Garro, a food-loving Sicilian blacksmith who Pollan calls his mentor.
During the hunt, Pollan and his fellow hunters dined on homemade terrain of lobster, halibut en geleé, mortadella, cornichons and home-cured olives for lunch. They even drank wine. On my hunt, there was no food at all and all I got was a can of Bud.
“How civilized,” I thought, “hunting with an Italian and Frenchman.”
Being the food lover that I am, I decided to call Garro myself. The generous man on the opposite end of the line invited me to join him and two former Chez Panisse chefs to forage the next day for wild fennel on the verdant hills of San Francisco. We picked the wild weeds by the handful, seeking the most tender part of the stalk.
Later, in Garro’s kitchen hidden behind his working forge, we cooked savory wild fennel cakes lightly fried in olive oil. Garro pulled out his homemade prociutto, some olives, and hot bread shaped like a sheath of wheat from his well worn Wolf range. Then he poured some homemade Grappa and things got really good. Like Pollan, I, too, had gotten a ‘perfect’ meal.
As for Pollan’s ‘perfect’ meal? Later this week, enlightened chefs at Chez Panisse will prepare this foraged and wild dish in his honor and celebrate the publication of The Omnivores Dilemma. (click to purchase)
Recipe: Wild Fennel Cakes
- 3.5 pounds foraged fennel stalks chopped
- 6 eggs
- Two handfuls of ground coarse bread crumbs
- 1-2 cups of Pecorino (to taste)
- 4-5 cloves of garlic chopped fine
- Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
Unlike the fennel seen in the markets, the bulb of wild fennel isn’t used. The taste of this plant is more subtle than the tame variety.
Garro takes the tender part of the stalks and finely chops them into eighth of an inch rounds much like chives. He adds just a bit of the leafy fronds chopped very finely: they are less tender and more fibrous. Then he blanches the greens for eight to ten minutes in salted water then drains them and puts the mass in a bowl to cool.
While cooling, he grinds breadcrumbs, chops the garlic, and grates Parmesan or pecorino. He adds the ingredients into the bowl of fennel and adds the eggs and mixes. It’s important not to add too much egg. A frittata is not the goal. The mixture should be wet with enough to bind the vegetable into little latke discs.
Fry them on a nonstick or cast iron pan with a little extra virgin olive oil until golden brown. Serve immediately. Serve with a mache or argula salad and lemon.