It will come of no surprise to anyone who lives in our green and pleasant land, that the only thing growing with any vigour, after our dubious Spring, are Nettles! I don’t know why they don’t get better press, obviously they are the nasty ‘ouchy’ blighters that we have all had a fight with in the undergrowth, yet that aside they are astonishingly good to eat. So after years of being stung, what better way to get your own back, seek revenge, and gobble them up. ‘EAT THEM’, I hear you gasp, tut tut tut, well you only have to google ‘nettles’ and ‘eating’ and you will see there has been a rich history of this ‘weed’ in our diet for hundreds of years. In food and also in medicine, nettles hold some pretty magical properties. Nutritionally, nettles are up there, the ‘prima donna’ of goodness and all things lovely and cleansing, (strangely rich in iron), and taste wise they are a cross between sorrel, spinach, chard and just very green. Their flavour is extremely delicate, verging on subtle. To date the white witch forager in me has worked them into risotto, pasta, ravioli and soup to suitable aclaim from Mr.P, but I bet you could also make a pesto and replace the likes of spinach in a tart, or as my brother and I happily did for many years in our famous ditch camp, concoct nettle cordial and tonics, though they were never knowingly consumed!
We have plenty of nettles at the farm so finding a small value in their existence has been a revelation. Having done a little research they are best to eat now. Young and fresh before they develop their flowers. The key is to don your very sexy yellow marigolds, armed with the salad spinner and go out on the forage. You only need the top sprig, ideally the first 4-6 leaves, once picked, don’t be idle the sting is still there, so handle carefully until they have been blanched in boiling water, which removes their sting and prepares them for human consumption. You need quite a lot, as just like spinach they cook down to nothing, so don’t be shy out picking, also worth noting, they will last well in the fridge for a couple of days. Once picked, you need to give the nettles, a really good wash before plunging into boiling water. Blanch for about 30 seconds and then drain and wring out any excess water, the stingers, now zapped, are fit for use.
Trial and Error Nettle Risotto, serves 2
100gm of freshly picked nettles, washed, blanched, drained and very finely chopped
1 leek finely diced
3 spring onions finely diced
1 garlic clove crushed
100gms of risotto rice
1 litre of hot chicken stock
2 tblsp of white wine
Knob of butter
1 good handful of parmesan or aged pecorino
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon
1. Put a splash of olive oil and a small knob of butter in a large heavy bottom saucepan, add the leek, spring onion and garlic and cook on a medium heat, stirring often, until translucent but not caramelised.
2. Now add the risotto rice, give it a good stir around for about 20- 30 seconds and now add the white wine, let it bubble briefly and then start adding the hot stock, a ladle at a time.
3. I like my risotto quite al dente, so after about 12-15 minutes of stirring and adding stock, add the blanched finely chopped nettles. Stir again, and add a little more stock, if you run out of stock just use hot water instead. Taste the risotto at this stage, the rice should have a ‘nice bite’ to it if you like it al dente, but if you prefer it softer carry on adding stock and stirring.
4. The finely chopped nettles will disintegrate with further cooking making the risotto go an amazing color of bright green. When you are happy with the rice texture, turn the heat off, add a small knob of butter, a handful of grated pecorino or parmesan, a good pinch of Maldon sea salt, some ground black pepper and squeeze of lemon. Stir really well, check the seasoning and serve immediately.
The reason I have called this ‘Trial and Error’ nettle risotto, is that I have only made it twice, it has been devoured on both outings, but I am not famous for keeping track of accurate measurements. I promise the green content is accurate but I can’t 100% vouch for the stock, so do use your noodle as to whether it needs more or less when cooking, likewise I am sure you can tweek it to your own palate. My own belief is that you don’t want to shroud the delicate flavor of the nettles, so go easy on the parmesan, that said you can make more of a meal of it by serving it with some chargrilled chicken or pan fried salmon, particularly if you have menfolk around who want a little more substance!
Finally if nettles really don’t appeal, have a look at the wonderful website called ‘Tulip and Nettle’, that specialises in divine, traditional clothing for children! http://www.tulipandnettle.com