I foraged for pine needles in upstate New York two weeks ago to try a delightful, traditional autumn dish: Matsuba-yaki. Matsuba-yaki is a dish in which seafood and/or mushrooms and vegetables such as Matsutake mushrooms are placed on fresh pine needles and cooked together in a stove-top pot or in the oven.
It is a fundamental principle that Japanese cuisine respects and honors the seasonal changes in nature. Chefs and home cooks alike try to bridge nature and dining room experiences by numerous methods. In addition to the use of seasonal ingredients, chefs utilize materials from nature such as leaves, wood, and pine needles as part of the cooking tools during dish preparation. These natural objects along with edible flowers are also utilized to garnish the prepared dishes and/or to decorate the dining room.
My Matsuba-yaki dish ingredients consist of locally-caught tile fish from the Blue Moon fisherman who sells exclusively at the Green Markets of New York City, gingko nuts foraged from trees on city streets near my home in New York City, and kabocha squash, shiitake mushrooms and carrots all from local farms within a 250 mile radius of New York City. Individually prepped items including the pine needles are wrapped together in parchment paper and baked in the oven. The climax comes at the dinner table, when subtle but distinctive fragrance of pine needles mixed with sweet fish aromas hits our nose. It is wonderful, once again to be in the beautiful and delicious autumn time!