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Wild Greens: My affair with stinging nettles

 
Nettle patch1 (1 of 1) “Good for stimulating the blood,” a seller at the farmers market told me once, laughing, as he pretended to beat himself on the shoulders with a bunch of stinging nettles. 

Yikes, I’m thinking, as I go skirt the edge of the nettle patch that this year’s rains brought me and a leaf brushes against my ankle. It hurts. I don’t want the nettles to go to waste -- or to go to seed -- before I have a chance to use them, so I'm out here picking them (gloves on, of course).

The other day I made a nettle soup from a recipe in Jonathan Waxman’s book “Italian, My Way“ (Simon & Schuster). Basically you wash and chop the nettles finely, sweat some onions and garlic in olive oil in a big pot, add nettles and a little parsley and cook for a few minutes, then add water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool, and put in the blender. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Nettle soup1 (1 of 1) The first take was a bit medicinal since the soup is basically just nettles and water. The next day I tried mellowing the taste with a little leek and potato so it didn’t seem quite so thin. I added a touch of cream, not so much that you’d really notice, which definitely improved the taste and garnished the soup with hot paprika and some sauteed fresh shiitake.

That soup, though, barely made a dent in the nettle patch. Next project: nettle pasta from former Oliveto chef Paul Bertolli’s book “Cooking by Hand.” You work the boiled nettles into the semolina dough just the way you would spinach. I remember loving his nettle pasta when I had it at Oliveto years ago.

I want to make a nettle pizza, too. 

In Italy, there’s a great tradition of foraging for wild greens, whether it’s dandelion leaves or arugula or nettles. Now I begin to see why. 

--S. Irene Virbila

Photo credits: S. Irene Virbila

 

 
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I love nettles! They are so nutritious and delicious. You can harvest them without killing them by taking just the top few inches of the plant. If you don't want to wear gloves, you can also avoid getting stung by using scissors and carefully angling your snip so that the plant falls into your bag or basket without you putting it there. Then you can de-sting the little hairs by pouring the plants into a collander and dousing them all in water.

I write a foraging blog in Portland at http://firstways.com where I list some great resources like wild food cookbooks and field guides.

I love "Cooking by Hand" if you could please post results from nettle pasta, I'm very curious. I made the version in the book substituting spinach.


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