I actually designed this dish for salsify, rather than burdock. When the farmer with the salsify ended up running out despite promising that she wouldn't for several more weeks, I tried burdock instead. Burdock and salsify are nearly identical in terms of their texture and the process one uses to cook them. However, their flavors differ a bit. Salsify has a buttery, artichokey, oyster-like flavor, whereas burdock's flavor is sharper and more pungent, but lacks any of that briny, oyster kind of flavor. Still, after trying the burdock, I decided that it would stand in well in this dish. And after some tweaking, it did.
This dish was the one that I changed significantly from Friday night to Saturday night. On Friday, it looked like it does in the picture to the right: 4 dollops of chestnut puree, each topped with a piece of butter-fried burdock, each piece of which was topped with a bit of apple, and one dollop of stinging nettle pudding which was topped with a roasted chestnut.
Friday's guests, for the most part, didn't like it. It was most people's least favorite dish. They liked the flavor pairing, and they loved the nettle. No one mentioned it, but I don't think the chestnut puree was hot enough when we sent it out; it just took too damn long to plate these. Lukewarm chestnut puree is not good. So, not being one to repeat my mistakes, I changed it around for Saturday night. In addition, at that point, Jeanette and I decided that even if we are doing this underground restaurant thing out of our home, and only have a single oven, we really can't get away with not warming our plates. Every course from then out (and forever and ever) had dishes warmed before plating.
On Saturday night (on extremely hot plates), I put a big ring of a bunch of nettle pudding, on top of which we plated about twice as much burdock as the dish had Friday night, and a roasted chestnut. Then in the center of the ring went a spoonful of piping hot chestnut puree, and top of that went a small salad of julienned granny smith tossed with a bit of white wine vinaigrette. It was much, much quicker to plate, and then I spooned hot brown butter over the burdock just before serving.
On Saturday night, everyone loved it, and it was many people's favorite dish. All the same flavors, just adjusting the proportions a bit and keeping things warmer made such a huge difference. The funny thing is, there were other dishes that didn't change at all between Friday and Saturday but that people loved on Friday and weren't as wild about on Saturday, and vice versa. That's food.
Stinging Nettle Pudding
Before dealing with the nettles, make a small quantity of vegetable stock, adding a healthy amount of caraway seeds, which I find brings out the flavor of nettles. Then move on to the nettles, always being careful not to touch the nettles with your bare skin. Don't worry about pulling the leaves off the branches (it'll be vastly easier to do so after blanching). Just throw the whole things into a big pot of vigorously boiling salted water for about 30 seconds. Immediately fish them out and plunge them into ice water for a minute or two to preserve the vivid green color. Then remove the biggest of the stalks, the more stalks you remove, the better. Add all the nettles to a blender and blend, adding only as much vegetable stock as is absolutely necessary to get them to blend in a proper vortex. Blend for at least a few minutes to get the puree as smooth as possible. Then taste the puree, adding salt and, if necessary, an acid (I may have used a bit of white wine vinegar or lemon juice or something--I don't remember). Strain the puree through a chinois, discarding whatever is left in the mesh. Then taste the puree for its texture and mouthfeel. I wanted a pudding-like texture for a more luscious mouthfeel. Also, you don't want the puree leaking water as it sits on a plate. So, I adjusted by blending in a bit of Ultratex-3 and xanthan gum, giving it a more pudding-like texture and controlling the water. Each of those additives, on their own, yields a particular gummy texture if you add too much, so be judicious. Using both helps keep those gummy textures at bay since there isn't enough of either to make it gummy. Nettles' deep green color is quite resilient and will last for at least a week if refrigerated. However, after a week or so you'll want to make sure to test the consistency, as the hydrocolloids will tend to exhibit some syneresis (leaking of water), so you may need to add bit more xanthan and Ultratex to keep the pudding looking tight on the plate and feeling luscious and not watery in the mouth.
Soak dried chestnuts overnight in water. Strain the chestnuts and add them to the blender. Blend, adding just enough of the soaking water to get them to puree smoothly with a proper vortex in the blender. Blend for several minutes to get the smoothest puree. Adjust the salt, and adjust the sweetness of the puree with agave nectar (though it won't take much), remembering that it's going to be set against sweet and tart apples. Push the puree through a chinois by pumping with a lade, or through a tamis.
Soak fresh chestnuts in water for half an hour. This softens the shell, allowing you to cut it. Score the flat side of the shell in an "X" with a sharp paring knife. Then roast in a medium oven (325F-ish) until the shells have fully split at the X and the chestnut meat inside if getting toasty and somewhat softer (20-40 minutes). Remove the chestnuts from the oven and, wearing work gloves to protect your hands, begin peeling the nuts at the X while they're still hot. Be careful--they're easy to break. You'll find that many of them will be bad inside, with the meat dark and shriveled or else chalky and breaking apart when peeled. The peeling needs to be done while they're still hot or else the shell will harden too much and you'll be very likely to break the nuts while getting them out of the shells. If they start to cool too much, you can return them to oven briefly to warm them up again. Once you have the nuts peeled, you can either use the nuts immediately, store them at room temperature for up to two days, or else refrigerate in an airtight container for a couple weeks. When you're ready to use them, simply warm them in an oven.
In this case, I used extremely thick burdock roots. Your process may differ if you use the thin ones I often see in Asian groceries: the small ones may require much less time to soften while blanching, and it would make sense to cut them into elongated cylinders rather than coin shapes. For the larger ones, here's what I do. Peel the very thin skin of the burdock root, wasting as little as possible, and keeping the root as round as possible. Hold the peeled roots in water while you peel the rest of them, as they oxidize quickly. They'll gradually turn light purplish-gray after cooking anyway, but you don't want them to be brown before cooking. Throw all the roots into boiling water, and simmering for 15-40 minutes. If the pieces are different sizes, they'll all finish at different times, and you'll have to test each piece individually for doneness. They are finished when they become softened somewhat and the outside is no longer as springy. It's tough to explain, but you'll know it when you see it, kind of like hard-core pornography. Let them cool completely. As they cool, they'll turn grayish. Cover them and refrigerate until you're ready to use. At this point, you can treat them pretty much the way you'd treat potatoes. In this case, I sliced them into half-inch thick rounds and sauteed them in lots of butter on medium-high heat, basting them with the butter. Salt them very well, as they are quite starchy like potatoes and need a lot of salt. After sauteing, you can hold them for a few minutes in a warm oven, but they dry out fairly quickly.