Cookbook author and forager Brett Laidlaw was in Madison last week for a book signing at Underground Butcher and a dinner at Forequarter. He is author of Trout Caviar, and has a delightful blog by the same name.
Laidlaw and I had discussed the possibility of a foraging dinner at a Madison restaurant after I read his book last year.
Trout Caviar entranced me immediately. I appreciate how readable it is, and how Laidlaw incorporates Wisconsin flora and fauna as ingredients in an unassuming and charming way. It is a record of time lived cooking well from the land.
Mel Trudeau and Jonny Hunter from Underground Food Collective were enthusiastic about a collaboration: Laidlaw would forage a few items — ramps, wood nettles and stinging nettles from his farm near Menomonie– and help cook sample dishes at the commissary kitchen for his afternoon book signing at Underground Butcher. Then Forequarter would choose a couple of his recipes to execute for dinner in the evening.
Laidlaw created a ramp and nettle pesto with sheep cheese on toasted baguette as well as a Sichuan-style salad of wilted stinging nettles with a charred ramp dressing. Both were examples of how minimal prep and appropriate combinations applied to wild ingredients can create lush flavors.
The zingy wild pesto was balanced by the sweet sheep cheese. Chinese vinegar lent the salad acidity, and a few chili flakes added heat.
For dinner, Forequarter chose Laidlaw’s recipe for wild rice soup and also his trout escabeche. Both were perfectly executed and beautifully presented, the escabeche especially drawing wide-eyed compliments from diners.
The bar served an inspired wild cocktail garnished with a candied pine cone.
I had hoped that Laidlaw and the Underground Food Collective would find mutual admiration, and indeed they worked together perfectly. As Laidlaw said after his first taste of Forequarter’s interpretations of his recipes: “I knew this would go well when I saw the same cookbooks I have on the shelf at the commissary kitchen.”
Trout Caviar is currently available for purchase at Underground Butcher, 811 Williamson St.