Show us your nettle

After years of reading about nettle dishes I finally decided I wasn’t much of a forager if I didn’t give it a go.

If a chook won’t eat something you’d think that a fair indicator of inedibility. But according to fans of stinging nettles (and Google) my chooks are missing out on excellent doses of vitamins by turning their beaks up at the infestations on their doorstep.

Mistake number one was to think food handling gloves would be sufficient, as I got more enthusiastic in my harvesting and applied more pressure the stings made their way through and also whacked my arms. As a child we were told dock was an antidote to nettle stings but by this stage I just wanted to get back to the kitchen and get this over with.

nettle blanching

I picked the tender tips from the plants and steeped them briefly in boiling water, this is the bit that takes the sting out of them and turns the leaves a vibrant green. The nettles are now ready to be treated in any way you might use spinach.

As an experimenter rather than a convert I decided to make a pesto to top a roast winter vegetable soup, I reckon anything full of olive oil, garlic and parmesan is going to taste delicious regardless of a small weed invasion.

Verdict: herby, green, spinachy, chewy, pleasant enough. A perfect foil to the sweetness of vegetables caramelised by the roasting.

nettle menu

In a world with a million recipes for soup I think it more important to remember the principles rather than any detail. In this instance season and roast with olive oil whatever vegetables you have (I used pumpkin, potato, cauliflower, carrot, sweet potato and loads of garlic and onion). Then put them in a heavy bottomed pot with fresh herbs (I’m likely to have used rosemary, thyme and bay) and cover with good stock. Cook slowly for 20 minutes or so and then mash or puree it all. Adjust the seasoning. Add some cream before serving if you wish. Top with nettle pesto or stir it through.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

1 cup blanched nettles
1 cup rocket &/or parsley
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
a few cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt flakes
a few turns of a pepper grinder
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, bar the oil, in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the oil in a stream until well combined. Store with a layer of oil on top and add wherever you need a dose of vesty green flavour.

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