It’s often found in grasslike dense clumps that have outgrown your lawn over winter and have a strong garlic aroma when crushed. The greens and the bulbs are edible and have no poisonous imposters.
These quick pita pizzas feature one of my favorite late-winter flavor combinations with the crispy crust of classic Roman-style pizzas, and go yard-to-table in about 15 minutes. For busy homesteaders, these pita pizzas are a workhorse, turning home-grown and foraged produce into quick and easy meals with few dishes and little clean-up.
But this is slow fast food. The flavors of pepper cress and roasted field garlic, tempered with mild goat cheese are a combination fit for gourmet restaurants.
Biding its time underneath the snow for the first thaw, Cardamine Hirsuta is everywhere this time of year. It goes by many names, peppercress, shotcress (as I was taught) and hairy bitter cress, though it is neither hairy nor too bitter.
It’s especially fond of damp places, but I’ve found it in almost every type of environment throughout the Great Lakes region, from woodlands, gardens, and waste sites, to sandy soiled barrens, and lawns.
It looks, tastes and has a very similar delicate texture to its close gourmet relative, watercress. It forms a small rosette in fall and grows over winter. Though most of its look-alikes are other edible cresses and “little mustards,” for beginners honing their plant eyes, it bears a very slight resemblance to some poisonous plants of the carrot family, including poison hemlock, pictured below, which lacks the rounded leaflets seen above.
(Ooooh, not this one! This one’s poison hemlock!)
The next ingredient in this recipe is field garlic, allium vinaele, another plant that’s nearly universal around the Great Lakes region this time of year.
The bulbs can be roasted in a hot oven just like garden garlic. Together with the peppercress, the two form a nice flavor combination.
1 Lebanese or other thin pita (not Greek pita.)
1/1 – 1 C chopped pepper cress
1 clump field garlic (12 bulbs)
Pasta or pizza sauce to taste
Goat cheese to taste
Fresh mozzarella to taste
Pinch dried italian herbs (fennel seed, oregano, basil)
Pinch sea salt
1 T olive oil
Remove the greens from the field garlic and set aside. Wrap the clean bulbs in tinfoil and add a few drops of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a crack of pepper. Place in the oven to cook while the oven heats and turn the oven to 450 degrees. Garlic should roast in about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle the bottom of the pita (you decide which side will better hold the ingredients) with olive oil and then italian herbs and sea salt. Turn it over and give the edges of the crust the same treatment.
Spoon dolops of sauce onto the pizza, then a light crumbling of goat cheese and pieces of mozzarella. Don’t over-do it. To many ingredients will keep the pizzas from getting crispy.
Add 1/4 – 1/2 Cup of chopped pepper cress, keeping some aside for the finished pizza.
By now, the garlic should be ready and the oven hot, so remove the garlic and put it on the pizza.
Then put the pizza in the oven, directly on the rack. At this point, I often switch the oven to “broil” to finish the top of the pizza. It should cook up in about 5 minutes.
Voila! Sprinkle some more fresh pepper cress on top and a drizzle of olive oil. A quick gourmet meal from your yard months before the first annual vegetables will be ready!