A few years ago, I would have never dreamed of writing about Nettles, and particularly Nettle Recipes! I hate being stung by those ferocious plants that litter my garden, and strike me with that sudden, instant pain that materialises into a dull, strong, nagging, itchy ache for hours and is no friend of mine. No matter how many dock leaves I have ripped asunder for their healing juice, Nettles still hurt.
But before you delete me, thinking I’ve lost the plot, have a look at this picture of Nettle Gnudi with Wild Pesto.
Doesn’t it look delicious. Bet you’re saying that it looks similar to the picture of the Ricotta Gnudi with Sage and Butter Sauce I wrote about in the previous post, and you are correct. But with the addition of Nettles, and partnered with a rich Wild Pesto, flavoured also with nettles, garlic, pine nuts and lemon. Hope you’ve stayed on the page with me, because I’ve some really interesting Nettle recipes coming up.
First, I’ve been doing a bit of research as to why Nettles and Nettle Recipes are supposed to be good for us, how on earth we handle them, cook them and deal with that dastardly sting?
So many food experts, and lots of chefs seem keen to both write about Nettles and cook them. Why? It’s maybe easier to put these facts into bullet points, so here goes:
- Nettles are from the Urtica genus, and are known as Urtica dioica.
- Nettles are full of iron, calcium, magnesium and Vitamins A and C.
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tells us that Nettles contain more vitamins than both spinach and broccoli.
- The Nettle sting disappears as soon as the leaves are boiled for 3-4 minutes.
- Nettles are used in cheese, such as Cornish Yarg and also to flavour Gouda.
- Nettles, once boiled, can be shredded and used as we use parsley to flavour many foods, such as polenta, dips, quiches, sauces and fritattas/omelettes.
- Nettles have been used over hundreds of years to aid cures for many ailments.
So how do we pick them safely, and, more important, how do we prepare and cook them?
- Most important, if foraging for Nettles (and this applies to soft fruit as well). Never pick from verges near busy roads (fumes from cars etc aren’t recommended) and never pick anything lower than knee height, especially if area used by dog walkers or has other animals around).
- According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, he recommends us to go down the garden, long sleeves covering arms, hands covered in thick washing-up gloves and legs protected by tucking trousers into big, thick socks and welly boots!
- His advice on picking Nettles is that the fresh young growth that appears in March and April is perfect for using in recipes. Also, when the lawnmower has done it’s hatchet job on the rough grass and weeds in summer, the young new stems of nettles will burst through once more, ready to feed us again.
- Hugh picks only the tips, the top 4 to 6 leaves on each spear. Never eat them once they begin to form flowers – they can upset your stomach.
- Once gathered up, protective gloves still on hands, wash the leaves well, swilling off any dirt and insects, then drain the Nettle.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil, then give the leaves only 3 – 4 minutes until gently wilted, and hey presto, the sting disappears.
- Drain well, and use straight away.
- Or you can store the cooked leaves in an airtight container in the fridge of up to 5 days.
Mentioning Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his sound advice, I came across his Nettle Soup Recipe. It is full of vegetables, and nettles, and sounds delicious. See what you think.
Nettle Soup V Recipe
- Around 150g of tender nettle tops
- 30-35g knob of butter
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 large or 2 smallish leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
- 2 celery sticks, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp white rice, such as basmati
- 1 litre vegetable (or chicken) stock
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6 heaped tbsp thick, plain yoghurt, to finish
- 1 small bunch chives, to finish
- Pick over the nettles, wash them thoroughly and discard the tougher stalks.
- Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-low heat, add the onion, leek, celery and garlic, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until soft but not brown.
- Add the rice and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the nettles, stirring them into the stock as they wilt, and simmer for five minutes or so, until the rice and the nettles are tender (very young nettle tops will need only two to three minutes).
- Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
- Puree the soup in two batches in a blender, reheat if necessary and check the seasoning.
- To serve - Serve in warmed bowls, topping each portion with a large dollop of yoghurt and a generous sprinkling of snipped chives.
I’ve found quite a few Nettle Recipes – it is amazing how many people are cooking and eating this plant we’ve regarded as a nuisance in our gardens. The next recipe is one myself and Erik would love for lunch.
Nettle & Blue Cheese Rarebit Recipe
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 200g nettle leaves, washed, boiled and drained
- 200ml tub creme fraiche
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 140g creamy blue cheese, such as Blue Vinney
- 4 thickish slices sourdough bread
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the nettles and cook for one minute until wilted.
- Allow to cool for one minute, then roughly chop.
- Add to a bowl with the creme fraiche, mustard and half the blue cheese.
- Stir in the seasoning, taste and set aside.
- Heat the grill and lightly toast the bread on both sides.
- Divide the nettle and cheese mix between the slices of toast then pile on the remaining cheese and grill until golden and bubbling.
- Serve immediately.
Last but not least in this post of Nettle Recipes is the one I dangled in front of you at the top of this post. Good Food’s recipe for Nettle Gnudi with Wild Pesto. Here is the larger version of the picture.
Nettle Gnudi with Wild Pesto
- 2 x 250g good quality ricotta cheese
- 200g young nettle leaves
- 50g Parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), plus extra to serve
- 2 egg yolks
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 350g semolina flour or fine semolina
- 6 tbsp wild pesto (see below)
- Wild Pesto:
- 150 young nettle or wild garlic leaves or a mixture
- 50g Parmesan, finely grated
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- zest of half a lemon and a good few squeezes of juice
- 50g pine nuts, toasted
- 150ml rapeseed oil
- Line a sieve with a piece of muslin and set over a bowl. Tip in the ricotta, gather up the ends of the muslin and gently tie together. Leave to drain for 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- Meanwhile bring a pan of water to the boil. Blanch the nettle leaves quickly, then drain and chill under the cold tap. Thoroughly drain again, and squeeze out as much water from the leaves as you can, then very finely chop and chill until needed.
- To make the gnudi, transfer the strained ricotta to a large bowl. Beat a little, then add all but a few tbsp of the Parmesan, the egg yolks, nettles, a good grating of nutmeg and plenty of seasoning. Give it a good stir to combine.
- Tip the semolina into a large baking tray (it will need to fit into your fridge later). Wet your hands, dip them in the semolina and, working quickly, scoop 1 heaped tsp of the ricotta mixture into your hands and gently roll into a ball. Place the ball on the semolina tray and roll around so that it is completely coated.
- Pick it up and roll between the palms of your hands to create a smooth ball, then put back in the semolina. Continue with the rest of the mixture - you should have about 28 balls in total.
- Leave the balls in the semolina, make sure they are well spaced, and cover with baking parchment, not cling film.
- Chill for 12 - 24 hours - the longer the better - until a skin has formed on the gnudi.
- To make the Wild Pesto:
- If you are making the pesto with nettles, first bring a large pan of water to the boil, then drop in the nettles and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold water, then squeeze out as much water as possible and roughly chop.
- Put the prepared nettles and/or raw wild garlic leaves in the small bowl of a food processor, along with the Parmesan garlic, lemon zest and pine nuts. Blitz to a rough paste.
- Season, and with the motor running slowly, add almost all the oil. Taste, season and add a few good squeezes of lemon juice.
- Transfer the pesto to a clean jar, and top with the remaining oil. This will keep for two weeks.
- To cook the Gnudi:
- To cook the very chilled Gnudi, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, spoon the Wild Pesto into a frying pan.
- Once the pan water is boiling, drop in batches of the Gnudi and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until they rise to the surface. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a sieve. Repeat with the remaining Gnudi.
- Heat the pesto in the frying pan with a few tbsp of the Gnudi cooking water, just to loosen it. Tip the cooked Gnudi into the frying pan and gently turn the balls in the pesto to coat them.
- Divide the Gnudi between plates or bowls and spoon over some pesto, scatter over the remaining grated Parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper before serving. Enjoy.
(Recipe just above)
Well, a few things to mull over with this post. Do you fancy eating nettles? If they are good for you? I think Erik and myself will be experimenting with this strange plant because most folk who’ve tried it seem to enjoy it. I must admit, the Nettle Recipes all look delicious, so, if like us you are going to have a go, we would love to know how you got on. I will post more recipes soon, so look out for them.