It’s spring time which means it’s nettle time for me. Wild food has become a bit of a trendy thing, with various celebrity chefs and poncy restaurants dishing up wild mushroom ragouts and whatnot; but the fact remains that we’re talking about one of humanity’s oldest and most basic activities. And gathering wild foods can be easy if you know when to look for what, and a great place to begin is with nettles in spring. They are all over the place, nutritious – with lots of vitamin A and C, and iron – and tasty!
It’s best to gather them in places that aren’t right by the road and therefore all polluted, and you can pick them using scissors, gloves, plastic bags, or find your own technique. The smaller, younger, greener shoots are tastiest, and of these, the tops are tastiest of all. If I find an abundant patch, I usually just snip off the very tops. They shrink a lot when cooked so you need to pick a lot!
When you cook or dry nettles the small hairs which sting you are destroyed, so no worries there. (Though you can also make a raw nettle salad by squashing them…!)
Ingredients for 3:
1 onion, 4 small spuds, 1-2 tbsp oil, 1/2 plastic bag of nettles (about 4 handfuls), 1 litre vegetable stock/boullion, salt and pepper and maybe some soy cream
What you do:
1. Peel and chop the onion, and cut the potatoes into bitesize pieces. Cook the onions in the oil for about 5 minutes, then add the spuds, stir through, then add the stock and cook the potatoes until soft.
2. Meanwhile put on some Marigolds and wash your nettles in a sink, then drain them in a colander.
3. Finely chop them with a large knife, as you would a bunch of herbs. Add them to the soup when the potatoes are done and stir through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. You can either serve it up unblended (which I sometimes prefer) or blended, in which case a drop of cream if nice.
4. If you come across some tasty wild garlic, shred it and add it along with the nettles.
Ah now this is the shit; I made it in the Cowley Cafe today and it was very good. The recipe below gives you amounts for 6 portions, or for 20. You can also use this recipe just to make a ‘normal’ risotto. Make sure you use proper risotto rice!
Ingredients for 6/20:
1/3 bags of nettles, 1/4 large onions, 2/7 cloves of garlic, 2/7 sticks of celery, oil, 600g/2kg arborio/risotto rice, 2 small glasses/1 bottle white wine or dry vermouth (optional), a small/large handful herbs such as parsley, chives, tarragon (optional), salt and pepper, 2 tbsp/6 tbsp margarine plus a bit, 100ml/350ml soy cream (optional)
For the stock:
a third/1 fennel, 1/2 onions, 1/3 carrots, 2/6 sticks of celery, some parsley, bayleaves, peppercorns, any other veg apart from potatoes.
What you do:
1. Wash your nettles as above, meanwhile bring 3/10 litres of water to the boil and then blanch the nettles in it, i.e dump em in it (in batches if it won’t all fit at once), boil for a minute or two then scoop out with a wire mesh or basket. This takes the stingyness away so the nettles will be easier to chop later on.
3. Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic, finely chop the celery. Use a wide, heavy bottomed pan and melt a bit of marge with some oil to cover the bottom, then cook the onions and celery on a low heat for 10-15 minutes or so. Add the garlic, then shortly after turn the heat up a wee bit, add the rice and stir it through so it gets a coating of oil and starts to go translucent.
4. Add a good pinch of salt (a tablespoon’s worth if cooking for 20) and then the wine/vermouth and stir until it has been absorbed.
5. Now start adding the stock, keep it simmering as you go along. Lower the heat and add the stock a ladle at a time, stirring occasionally. Wait for the liquid to get absorbed before adding another ladle. Keep going like this for about 15 minutes, by which the rice should be mostly cooked.
6. Meanwhile chop the blanched nettles. Make sure they are well drained before adding to the risotto along with the chopped herbs if using and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add more salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the margarine and the soy cream if using. Put the lid on, let stand for a couple minutes, then serve! Mmh!