I have fallen in love with nettles
Nettles used to be the annoying, stingy, to be avoided at all costs weeds of my childhood. We’d fear them during walks in gardens or places where they grew, and somehow always ended up rubbing our itchy hands and legs. And now, I cannot seem to buy enough of them. I have fallen for their nutty taste and the growing possibilities of what can be cooked with them. So far, I have managed to make three dishes great for the Spring-Winter transition, where spring has sprung but chill or rain are very much in the air: 1. lasagna, an idea that sprouted as I had bought some fresh GF lasagna sheets from the SF Ferry Building Farmers Market and had a jar of stewed tomatoes from my local market; 2. fresh gnocchi, inspired by a recipe from my Italian cooking bible: the Silver Spoon Cookbook; 3. A heavy nettle soup, for which I found the recipe at my local market.
For the lasagna, I used a radicchio lasagna recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook as a canvas to build on. I diced 5 medium farmers market carrots and finely sliced 3 spring onions and sautéed them until caramelization.
I then added 6 hands full of nettles, roughly de-stemmed, and the whole jar of stewed tomatoes. The ragu, seasoned with salt and pepper, simmered for some time. Meanwhile, I made a white sauce: I mixed 3 heaped tbsp. cornstarch blended with a bit of water with 2c. water, and cream (1/4 c.), 1 heaped tbsp. chicken stock concentrate. The mixture was heated up and stirred until thick, at which point I added 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese. I pre-cooked the lasagna sheets for 4 minutes and proceeded with the layering process: 1 layer of lasagna, the nettle ragu, white sauce, next layer of lasagna, white sauce, parmesan cheese.
I put the lasagna to bake at 375F for 20’ and finished it in the broiler. It was my first time using fresh GF lasagna sheet, and this was a treat: the ragu was both distinct with the nettle’s flavor, and sweet from the caramelized carrots and stewed tomatoes. Truly more-ish.
For the gnocchi, I experimented with modifying the Silver Spoon’s recipe to make it GF, replacing the wheat flour with arrow root and brown rice flour. The result was tasty but I misjudged the amount of potatoes and the gnocchi did not have the desired consistency. It was tasty nonetheless, especially doused with plenty of butter. Happy to have tried, and determined to do it again. To be continued.
Last but not least, I happened to catch sight of a recipe for “heavy nettle soup” at my local farmers market at the Happy Boy Farm stand, which has been my nettle supplier all season (thanks HBF!).
I was able in fact to get other necessary ingredients at their stand too: fennel, thyme.
I omitted the onions and used chicken stock concentrate and 4 c. water. The soup was perfect for the rainy day it had been: comforting, delish.
Based on talking to the Ladies at Churchill Orchard after I bought the nettles, I had decided to finish the soup with whipped cream garnished with some lemon zest. This added a lovely yet subtle lemony flavor to the soup. Thanks for the tip Ladies!