In France it's mirepoix, in Italy soffritto and in Germany Suppengrün but what is it called here in Britain?
These past few weeks I've been working my way through Michael Pollan's Cooked. The book is divided into 4 sections to represent different methods of cooking; Fire, Water, Air & Earth. The second of those broad sections looks in depth at the methods, processes and ingredients which go into cooking in the medium of water - so that's almost anything that involves a sauce but Pollan focuses on braises and stews. He says that the process nearly always begins with a large amount of chopping which is no doubt a truth many cooks can relate to. He explains that in French cuisine they have the mirepoix as the foundation for any good sauce or braise, that in Italy they have a soffrito, in Spain a sofrito and a look on wikipedia reveals that in Germany they have the suppengrün and in Poland they call it Włoszczyzna. So there we have a fundamental element of cooking and each country has a variant on this theme. Well, most countries do... but apparently Britain's not one of them.
Reading that section of the book filled with descriptions of rich stews whilst the temperature began to drop outside quickly led me into the kitchen to crack on with some slow cooked delights of my own. I've got plenty of onions from my allotment but I'm a complete failure when it comes to growing carrots and I've never bothered to try growing celery because our Wild Celery is just so much more flavoursome. So the onions got finely chopped followed by a good handful of wild celery which just left a carrot shaped gap in trying to approximate a kind of mirepoix - a carrot shaped gap which was easily filled by Wild Chervil stalks which are in the Carrot family anyway. The ingredients ratio for a mirepoix are generally quoted as 2:1:1 of onions, celery & carrots and then if you assign those ingredients to their plant families you get a ratio of 1:1 alliums to carrot family. Reduced to those principles it seemed acceptable (to me at least) to make substitutes and as I had 3 wild members of the carrot family (Wild Chervil, Alexanders and Wild Celery) I went for using a mix of them. It works beautifully.
From one country to the next the variations on this format usually represent the vegetation of a particular place and can even vary from one region to the next. So it's not necessary to rigidly replicate a purist mirepoix or soffrito but rather to recognise them for what they really are - which is generally a reflection of abundant vegetables in that particular locality. Right now, if you are wanting to reflect the dominant flavours of our landscape then including the wild stalks and stems which we offer is an exciting option. It's also not necessary to limit yourself to just the members of the carrot family which I mentioned; I have also been using the stalks of Sea Radish and Miles suggests the stems of Wild Watercress.
Whichever wild vegetables you choose to feature the rest of the magic happens after the fine chopping down and then the long slow cooking to facilitate the emergence of new compounds when all of those plants react under gentle heat. The end result is a flavour packed base for your cooking to sit on top of. All we need now is a name for it...