I like the flutter of expectation and curiosity I get in my stomach just as I try something for the first time. Before the boil, the butter and the salt, with only a precursory rinse I explore the flavor over my pits and buds. Unexpected sweetness.
“Cossack asparagus” is traditionally the young shoots from Common Cattail (Typha latifolia), but it’s very close to the Phragmites shoots we collected Monday. And like asparagus, one of the best recipes is the simplest. A little boiling, butter, salt, and pepper. I’m not going to make a fancy recipe because there’s little need. It’s is just good. More importantly though, the easier it is, the more people might try it. So I’m going to keep it simple. But feel free to experiment, every part of this plant is edible*.
In early spring, you can spot Phragmites from a distance. Last year’s tall, brown, bushy-headed stalks wave gently above their wetland habitats*. Just always be sure to correctly identify your species, as we discuss here. The young shoots are simple to find, just look where the old shoot meet the damp earth. With your fingers, probe around the base of the shoot into the soil, and pluck the shoot from where it meets the underground stems.
*It is important to note that plant roots are excellent at sequestering heavy metals from soils. While this provides a great land management strategy known as phytoremediation, it also means that eating plants in polluted areas can be dangerous. Phragmites commonly grows in ditches and along roadsides, but you should forgo these populations and only harvest from parks and other lesser polluted areas.
½ lb Phargmites shoots, washed
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring several quarts of water to a boil with 1Tbs of salt. Add the shoots to the water and boil for 10 minutes. Strain the shoots and place in serving try, melting and evenly distributing the butter over the top. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the shoots still warm but at a handling temperature. Peel 3 or 4 of the tough outer layers off the shoot, to reveal the soft core. Holding the shoot by the hard green end, bite off the core. Alternatively, peel the shoots and cut off the tips before serving. I like finger food.