In case modern society is one day wiped out by a virus or a comet, or in case the zombie apocalypse comes to pass, I like to be prepared. This does not mean my house if full of bottled water, torches, shotguns and medikits. Those are only the short-term necessities, and I’m sure some other crackpot will think of those. Rather, I try to be prepared for the long run, which means I try as many different foods as possible, to increase my chances of survival when there will no longer be farmers to cultivate the fields and shops to sell me the picked, cleaned and ready-to-eat fruits of their labour. Hopefully, knowing which plants I can eat and which ones I can’t, I’ll be able to roam the fields of our by then desolate world and pick plants, herbs and wild fruits without dying of food poisoning in the first post-apocalypse week.
The last plant I ate in my never-ending journey through the edible vegetation of Italy was borage (or borraggine as they call it here). Borage is a plant that I’d always seen and which I firmly believed to be exclusively decorative – accidentally decorative, no less, because I imagined it was a weed that was fortunate enough to look kinda cute. Anyway, they sell this stuff at the farmers’ market here in Turin, and although I had no idea at the time what it was, it looked pretty interesting, so I asked the lady about it.
She was one of those hard-as-nail grannies, with skin that had been turned into brown leather by years of toil under the Piemontese sun. She looked at me with the type of contempt that country people feel for us pale city dwellers. “It’s borragine, missy.” How could you not know? It bloody grows everywere. I was enthralled. “And you can actually eat this?” I asked. “Of course you can.” Or I wouldn’t be selling it at a food market, would I? I had trouble believing her. “Really? And what does it taste like?” The woman got bored of me. “It tastes like borage.”
I had to have some. I was just so curious. The lady, who had figured out what an utter idiot I was long before then, made me buy a kilo. “I’ll give you half a kilo for 80 cents, or one kilo for a euro. You might as well.” She shoved a kilo into a plastic bag. There was no for discussion.
I took it home and tried her suggestion: cutting it into pieces and boiling it like that. It was absolutely disgusting, so of course the next week, when I found someone else selling it, I bought more. That’s right. I’m not about to get defeated by some bitch-ass plant, no matter how exotic I might believe it is. This time round, I went to a different person – a young boy, who, in a beautiful instance of symbolism, sold borage that looked much greener, fresher, younger. It cost a lot more (1 euro for 300 gr), but at least it was edible.
So what does borage actually taste like? I guess the lady was right: it tastes like borage. It has a spinachy kind of quality to it, but it doesn’t quite taste like spinach. The flavour seems more wild, as if you’re eating a bunch of random herbs that you picked from a meadow. It’s nice! The texture is unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and I’m not sure I like it. This plant is just so fucking… hairy. It’s just hairy everywhere. The stems are hairy, the leaves are hairy, even the tiny flower are hairy. I can’t put that in my mouth and chew it, it’s just too weird. So instead I’ve had to purée my borage completely, so as to be able to enjoy the flavour without getting freaked out at its hairiness. What do you do with puréed borage? Either you make pansoti (a type of ligurian stuffed pasta), or you make a savoury borage pie. Kind of like a spinach quiche, but with borage. Bring on the zombie apocalypse. I’m ready.
For one borage quiche, use:
- 300 gr borage
- 150 gr ricotta
- 4 eggs
- a round puff pastry base, or get a block and roll it out yourself
- salt and pepper
To spice this thing up a little, you could add:
- 50 gr of bacon lardons
- 100 gr of smoked scamorza, cut into cubes
So, first of all wash your borage thoroughly. Dump it in the sink to soak in water for a while, rinse, repeat. Now cut it up into the finest slices you can possibly manage, like, 2 mm thick, if you can. The hairiness of this plant really weirds me out and I’m one of those allergic types so I could only handle it with gloves on.
Now boil your borage. Everyone told me to blanch it, but Italian overcook their vegetables something awful so by that they probably meant “boil it for 8 minutes”, which is what I did. You’ll notice it’s still hairy afterwards.
Now leave it in a sieve or colander for a while, make sure there’s not too much liquid left in it, then purée the hell out of it. Grab your favourite hand blender or chuck all of it in a food processor and let her rip.
Next, mix in the ricotta and the eggs, some salt and pepper, and the bacon or scamorza, if you’re using them.
Make a nice little puff pastry pattern on top, fold the sides over, shove it in the oven on 180°C for about 45 minutes. That’s all!