As Part Two of my summertime Alaska blog series, I tried to harvest a few things such as fiddlehead ferns and fireweed shoots, but I only successfully cooked something using devil’s club.
You’ve probably encountered devil’s club in any Alaska forest. It’s pretty much the last plant you want to encounter because it’s covered top to bottom in sharp thorns that can easily embed themselves in your skin; but in the spring the plants produce short buds covered in premature, soft thorns. This part of the plant is edible. Is it good? That’s what I aimed to find out.
I embarked on my devil’s club hunt on a sunny spring day after the birch trees had started budding. I had no trouble finding a thicket of devil’s club up on the hillside. They all had 1-to-3-inch buds emerging from the dry, wheat-colored stalks. I used a gardening glove to pluck them and collected them in a bucket.
After getting stuck with thorns a few times I felt as though I had enough to work with. On the drive home my car started smelling like an Alaska forest. The devil’s club buds had a spicy, celery-like scent.
Once in the kitchen I discarded the inedible, dark sheath from each bud, then rinsed them and tossed them into a large pot of salted boiling water. I blanched them for two minutes and plunged the buds into an ice bath. Then I spun them in a salad spinner and stored them overnight in the fridge.
Once blanched these buds are ready for consumption. They can be tossed in olive oil with sautéed onions and mushrooms or used in a stir fry. My friend Karen suggested making pesto with them.
Now I’m a pesto purist — there’s no combination more superior than basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. But for the sake of this blog series, I decided to give it a try. I chose to make a basil/devil’s club pesto. I figured the basil and garlic would overpower any unusual flavors of the devil’s club. I was pleasantly surprised with the final product – a peppery, slightly more bitter pesto fit for any pasta.
For a detailed guide to harvesting devil’s club, I suggest reading Laurie Constantino’s blog post. She really knows what’s up!
Devil’s club pesto
Makes enough for 2 pounds of pasta
- 1 cup good-quality olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (I didn’t have any so I just used cashews)
- 2 cups of fresh basil
- 2 cups of blanched devil’s club buds
- 1.5 cups freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- 1/4 cup softened butter
- salt and pepper to taste
In a blender, combine the olive oil, garlic and nuts. Add in the basil, devil’s club and butter and blend until very well combined, about one minute. Place cheeses in a serving bowl and add basil mixture to the bowl. Stir well; salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta of your choice.
Leftover pesto can be jarred and frozen for up to a couple of months, but only defrost at room temperature since the cheese will melt under hot conditions.
Look for my next post — it’ll either be spruce tips or morels!