The Washington Post

Cooking Off the Cuff: Pedal to the nettles

Raw stinging nettles, with tiny hollow fangs. (Edward Schneider)

That said, there is something cool about using wild plants with a short season, especially those that can cause you pain until you show them who’s boss.

A few weeks ago, in London, my friend Angela Hartnett’s team served Jackie and me a beautifully green nettle risotto with a crisp frog’s leg lollipop. The dish was subtle yet it had the distinctive, mustily vegetal flavor of that fairly common wild leaf. Not long after we got home from our trip, I found nettles in our local farmers market. I bought a couple of bunches, being careful to use a plastic bag to protect my fingers from the plant’s tiny hollow fangs, which deliver a cocktail of chemicals that can cause stinging and itching until the nettles have been cooked.

After the nettles have been blanched, the gloves can come off. (Edward Schneider)

What I did at this point was to make a sauce for fish: more precisely, for fishcakes made of leftover cod trimmings cooked in seasoned milk; potatoes then cooked in the same milk; a small onion sweated in butter; parsley; an egg and some bread crumbs.

I cooked a minced shallot in butter until tender, then added the cooked nettles, the grated zest of half a lemon and one-third cup of light chicken stock, and warmed this through. (I could have used vegetable broth.) I pureed this in a food processor; a blender would have made a smoother puree, of course, but the food processor result was adequate for the task. Once the seasoning was right and the consistency had been adjusted with stock, that was the sauce: beautiful, deep-green and with that vegetal flavor I mentioned earlier.

The pureed nettles yield a deep-green sauce with a vegetal flavor. (Edward Schneider)

What else might I have done with my boiled nettles? Well, I might have tried to copy Angela’s risotto: Make a plain risotto using vegetable broth until the rice is about two-thirds cooked, then switch to the same broth-diluted nettle puree. No, I would not have bothered with the frog’s leg lollipop.

Crisp fishcake with nettle sauce. (Edward Schneider)

So, before it is too late, get out into the fields armed with a picture of a nettle plant, a shopping bag and a pair of rubber gloves.

Or let the farmers market vendor do it for you.



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