‘Gently touch a nettle and it’ll sting you for your pains/Grasp it as a lad of mettle and soft as silk remains’. (Aesop in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock)
|If you are careful or just plane silly you don't need gloves to harvest stinging nettles Laura|
In England it seems that you are never further than a rotting apple’s throw away from an angry patch of stinging nettles. These little blighters can spoil a portion of your day, causing you to sting, itch and curse, but as much as they are very naughty, they are also terrific. They have amazing medicinal properties, but what makes me a big fan is that they are nutritious and delicious. Try to use the top four leaves: they are the most tender. Also, try to avoid the tips that are turning to seed as they are gritty.
|Tender, green and slightly angry, perfectly ready for harvesting UHG|
I advise using gloves when you harvest. However, if you take care and use your fingertips and thumb where the skin is thick, you ‘should’ be okay. Once, after a long session of harvesting and prepping with no gloves, I had a tingling feeling in my fingers that lasted well into the next day… it was not unpleasant, it was rather fun actually! As soon as the nettles are zapped by heat they lose their sting.
|Laura brings my attention to wild marjoram, perfect with nettles UHG|
I use nettles in place of spinach or chard. Nettle soup is always a crowd pleaser, or mixed with a soft cheese as stuffing for pasta pockets. Try throwing a handful into stews or soups… the possibilities are infinite. However, I would avoid tossing fresh leaves into a salad, unless your mother in law is coming to lunch.
|Ready for blanching UHG|
So if you live in Blighty and are shy of a few greens for dins, why not nip out the front door - within a few blocks you should have the necessary stingers. You could buy a bunch of spinach at the supermarket, but that’s a bore.
|Puffed up and proud. Can't wait to get stuck in… UHG|
Here is my latest little nettle creation inspired by the humble spinach and feta pie.
WHAT YOU NEED (serves 4)
(Trust me, the quantities of the ingredients don’t have to be precise: this is a rough guide)
- Stinging nettles or spinach/ chard, about 4 loosely packed handfuls
- Wild marjoram or oregano, the leaves of 2–3 sprigs roughly chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten (keep back a little for sealing and basting the pastry)
- Feta, a generous chunk mashed/ crumbed
- Nutmeg, a pinch
- Puff pastry, about 300g
- Salt and pepper to taste
WHAT TO DO
Tear the nettle leaves from their stalks, wash them well, then blanch in a pot of boiling water. Remove the nettles and let them cool in a strainer. Once cool, squeeze out any excess water and roughly chop. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together (not the pastry though, that would be silly). Roll out the pastry and design your unique pouch for the filling (a rectangle flipped over does the trick). Seal your pastry pocket by using a little egg as glue and pinching the edges together to form an airtight join. Stab a hole or two through the top surface to let out any steam, brush with egg, pop into the oven at 200°C and bake until golden brown and flaky.
|A simple salad from what is in the fridge is really all the company any pie needs UHG|
Hopefully, when your guests tell you how daring you are, your chest will proudly puff up like the very pie itself.