Let me guess, you’ve never cooked with nettle before? Well, NOW (early spring) is the time to try it! Nettles seem to resist mass cultivation, and only grow wild or semi-wild, and only during a short period of the year. In the words of Julia from Mariquita Farms, ‘once they’re gone, they’re gone [for the year]’.
I had nettles on the brain when I visited the Palo Alto farmer’s market last weekend. I picked up my regulars — cooking greens, lettuce, eggs, onions, whatever fruit is in season (citrus right now), some meat, tofu, bread, and some in-season vegetables (yeah, I know, my farmer’s market rocks). All the while I kept my eyes open for nettles, which I had little confidence in finding. As I was about to give up and head home, I ended up at a stand, Four Sisters Farms, that specializes in artisan greens. I love simply looking at this stand because they have beautiful big wicker baskets filled with tasty greens — watercress, arugula, sorrel, baby spinach, baby cooking greens, lettuce, salad mix, etc — the presentation is lovely. In the back corner apart from the other baskets I saw a bin of wild nettle! I promptly bought a pound, and feeling very pleased, headed home.
Once home, I used a half pound to make two quarts of nettle tisane — fresh herb tea. The other half pound I made into an extremely simple nettle soup, which I believe is Swedish in origin — a celebration of spring, if you will.
The soup, with just three ingredients, is amazingly complex and delicious. Nettle has a very distinct taste, which I can only describe as a loose cross between cactus, grass (in a good way), and fresh basil. It’s intensely herb-y, and definitely unlike anything I’d ever tasted before. The color of the soup was shocking too — BRIGHT (and inviting) green.
If you’re so inclined, you can even gather wild nettle yourself. Be careful though, as 1) raw nettle stings human flesh, and 2) it is sometimes considered a weed and hence may have been sprayed with pesticides. Gathering your own food can be intensely rewarding, but do take proper precautions. Whether gathered or purchased, nettle is a unique and delicious food to add to your culinary repertoire! I encourage you to give it a try!
Update: I ate dinner at Slow Club in SF last night, and they had a nettle, caramelized onion, ricotta, and mozzarella flat bread that was to die for. If you want to make something like this at home, just imagine a white pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and sauteed nettle and go from there… yum…..
Simple Nettle Soup
Recipe originally from a recent Mariquita Farms newsletter. Thanks Andy & Julia!
½ lb fresh nettles
approximately 4 cups water (for boiling nettles)
4 cups chicken broth (or substitute rich vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
1 T. butter
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
Wearing gloves or using tongs (nettles sting until they’ve been cooked), rinse nettles in cold water. Remove any brown stems.
Combine water and nettles in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for about 8-10 minutes, until the nettles have softened. Drain nettles from water and puree*(see note below) using a food processor or the medium disc of a food mill.
Heat the broth until almost boiling. Add pureed nettle mixture, and stir in butter until it melts. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with egg and croutons (if using).
*Note: It is absolutely necessary to puree the nettles before adding them to the soup. The first time I made this soup I added the whole nettles to the chicken broth and used a hand-held immersion blender to puree the soup. This left long, hair-like nettle filaments in the soup. So — moral of the story — puree or finely chop before adding to the broth.
Update 4/4/08 : This post was submitted to the brand new ‘Farmer’s Market Fare’ blog carnival hosted at Eat.Drink.Better. Check it out!