Thursday, May 10, 2012

nettle goodness in the kitchen

i can't count the times i've sworn at the patches of stinging nettle around our property (and they are many) as they stung my hands or my legs. but i won't be doing it anymore. not now that i've learned how wonderful nettles are to eat! they're also really good for you - with one of the highest protein contents in the plant world and loads of medicinal uses (which i won't go into here, as i'm no expert and haven't yet tried them).

for each of the recipes below, i picked one colander full of nettle tops (not heaped, to the top is just fine). i wear gloves and snip the tender top sets of leaves with a little herb scissors. i can recommend that you do not let some temporary insanity come over you and poke your nose into your colander full of nettles and smell them. that can be rather painful and cause quite an interruption in your process.

to remove the stingy part of the nettles, get a pan of water with a pinch of salt in it on the boil and dunk your fresh nettles into the pot for 2-3 minutes (they should remain bright green). these early spring nettles have been clean and pretty bug-free, so i didn't do much rinsing before the boiling water bath. i might as the summer progresses. if you fish them out of your hot water bath with a strainer, the sand and dirt will sink to the bottom of your water anyway, so you'll be ok. after removing them from the hot water bath, transfer them back to your colander, it's ok to squeeze out the excess liquid with your bare hands now, as the sting has been taken out of your brilliant green nettles.

nettle pesto

100 grams toasted pine nuts
1 colander of blanched nettles, excess liquid squeezed out
2 cloves of garlic
grated parmesan to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to the desired consistency

toast your pine nuts (taking care not to wander away while you're doing this or they will burn). place them in the food processor with the blanched nettles, garlic, salt and pepper and several tablespoons of good olive oil. blitz it up. if it's not liquid-y enough, add more olive oil until it's how you like it. serve with fresh bread, over pasta, or as a healthy alternative to sauce on a pork chop or steak. i even coated a chicken in it recently before roasting it in the oven. it's very versatile. you may even want to just stand in front of the refrigerator and furtively eat a few spoonfuls when no one is looking.

nettle pesto
nettle hummus

250 grams chickpeas (canned or soaked dry ones)
1 generous tablespoon tahini
2 cloves garlic
1 colander of blanched nettles
olive oil to the desired consistency

put it all in the food processor and blitz it together. drizzle olive oil until it's a smooth, creamy consistency. great with freshly-baked bread or as a dip for veggies.

nettle hummus
homemade pasta always seems posh and as if you went to an extraordinary amount of work, but it's much easier than it looks. even if you start by making your own ricotta. i did so, because ricotta can be hard to find in our grocery stores, so i was missing this key ingredient when i wanted to make gnocchi with my nettles.  all it takes is milk, cream and a little bit of vinegar.

homemade ricotta

1 liter of whole milk
1/2 liter of cream
2 generous tablespoons of vinegar (use white if you want the ricotta to be creamy white, use apple cider vinegar if you don't mind it a bit more yellow)

pour the milk and cream into a heavy saucepan and heat gently until it just begins to bubble*. remove from the heat, add the vinegar and stir. it will curdle immediately. pour it through a strainer that's lined with cheesecloth or a tea towel and allow it to drain well. the longer you leave it to drain, the firmer it will be. i found that for the gnocchi, i didn't want it to be too firm, as it was harder to work with that way.  save the whey (the liquid you drain off the cheese curds) and use it the next time you bake bread instead of the usual liquid. it's delicious and nutritious! i just keep the whey in a jar in the fridge 'til i'm ready to use it.

*i read a lot of recipes for homemade ricotta and made multiple batches before arriving at this one - many of them are very fussy about the precise temperature of the milk, but i've found that didn't much matter, so i don't bother to use a thermometer. i'm all for keeping it simple.

ricotta and a jar of whey
nettle gnocchi

1 batch of homemade ricotta (it yields approx 250-300 grams/1 generous cup)
1 egg
1/2 C flour (i adore italian tipo 00 flour)
generous half cup of blanched nettles, finely chopped
salt & pepper

mix well. if the consistency is too liquidy, add a bit more flour. if it's too dry, add another egg. it all depends on how much you drain your ricotta and how much liquid you squeeze out of the nettles. if you buy commercial ricotta, you'll likely need a bit more flour. it should be firm enough to work with by hand. you roll it into a thick rope and slice it into small bite-size gnocchi. turn the gnocchi in flour to coat. put them into salted boiling water, in small batches, a handful at a time. they initially sink to the bottom and then rise when they're nearly done. i serve them very simply with a bit of butter and salt, or a spoonful of the pesto. simple and delicious. we've not yet had leftovers.

there are many other uses for nettles. i have yet to try tea.  i intend to dry some and make a seasoning salt.  sabin made nettle soup when she was in kindergarten, so we'll try that, cooking outdoors at some point this summer. when the stalks are larger and a bit more tough, it's possible to cut them, let them dry a few days and give them to your horse as a treat with their hay. they love it! i'm starting to feel downright lucky my yard is positively full of them!

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also posted on domestic sensualist

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled across this but am looking forward to making nettle hummous and pesto. I have made my own pesto with basil and watercress but we have lots of access to nettles .... Thanks for the recipes