Last month I was in the Bay Area and one of the best things I ate (besides the raw oysters and local champagne) was a foraged dish Cayce and I made together. Back when my publisher was looking for people to write jacket blurbs for my new book
, she contacted Connie Green, author of The Wild Table
Connie mentioned that she thought I must have been
influenced by her book. I'd never even read it, but this made me
think I should. And boy am I glad I did. Because when Cayce and I found ourselves in the middle of a sea of stinging nettles (ouch!), we knew exactly what to do.
The stems and undersides of stinging nettle leaves are covered with tiny, hollow hairs (trichomes) that contain several chemicals including histamine and formic acid. For centuries stinging nettles have been used a a folk cure to treat the pain of rheumatism and arthritis, but my interest in this plant is purely culinary.
Grab some sturdy gloves and a bag, then use pruners or scissors to snip off the top six inches of a stem and place it (carefully) in the bag. Stinging nettles reduce greatly when cooked, so you're going to need more than you think. Nettles are most tender and tasty in spring, before they flower. They grow in moist soils near streams and in shady woods.
The stingers are destroyed by cooking, so when you get home bring a large pot of water to a boil and empty your nettles into it. Blanch the nettles for 2-3 minutes, drain them, rinse them with cold water (to stop the cooking), then drain them again. Feel free to squeeze.
Nettles can be used any way you'd use spinach (quiches, frittatas, pasta) but Connie's recipe for Nettle Malfatti sounded intriguing. We made a few changes, according to what we had in the fridge, and the result is pure nettle deliciousness: light, green, and quintessentially spring.
(this recipe is for 4 oz. raw nettles, but you can size it according to your harvest)
coarsely chop your blanched, drained, and squeezed nettles
finely dice one small onion and sauté in olive oil until tender
add the nettles, 1 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, and stir it all up; cook for 3-4 minutes, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature
use a food processor to finely chop the cooled nettle mixture, adding more S&P to taste, if necessary
whisk 2 eggs into the nettles, then add 1/2 cup Parmesan and 3/4 cup bread crumbs and mix it up by hand
refrigerate and cool for 6-8 hours
flour a cutting board, a baking sheet, and your hands and pinch off about a tablespoon of dough
roll it into a torpedo shape and place it on the baking sheet
repeat (repeat repeat repeat)
Malfatti ("poorly made", because it's considered famine food) can be frozen, or cooked right away for about 4-5 minutes in boiling water, then coated in brown butter, lemon zest, and a little more Parm. Surprisingly fluffy. Hauntingly good.