Tuesday, April 2, 2013
a spring tonic
Yesterday I went nettle-picking in Interlaken Park (aka 'the ravine') for the second time this season. The first time I didn't get very many as the plants were still very small and most of the places they normally grow were freshly covered with bark, but this time I got a Chico Bag full--enough for a big pot of revivifying soup. If you should decide to pick some nettles yourself, don't believe the thing about grasping the nettle--I know from sad experience that it's a big lie and one should always bring along some sturdy gloves when planning to have dealings with nettles. My nice deerskin gardening gloves work well. My friend Little Debbie gave me a couple of eggs from her hens Daphne and Lilac (I think Lilac's egg is the smaller, really pretty one that looks kind of like it was cooked with onion skin). Since I don't normally eat eggs and these were a special treat I wanted to do something festive with them and decided to make a nettle frittata with the fruits of my initial harvest. When I get home with a bag of nettles I want to get them cleaned and cooked as quickly as possible so nobody gets stung by mistake. Wearing heavy dish-washing gloves, pull the leaves from the thick stems and rinse them thoroughly in a big bowl of cool water. Rinse a couple of times, till there's no grit at the bottom of the bowl. The rinse water will look kind of rusty. When they're clean, put them in a heavy pan with the water clinging to them plus another 1/4 cup or so, and cook over medium-low to medium heat till they're limp and sting-free. Check them and stir them around after about five minutes. With my stove and pan it takes 9 minutes. You can immediately proceed to make your intended dish or let the nettles cool, then squeeze out the (very dark) water and put the nettles in the fridge till you're ready to deal with them. Save the water if you're making soup, otherwise you can drink it--it may be practically black, but it tastes like very minerally leaves. My frittata was simple to make once I had my cooked nettles. I cooked a thinly sliced shallot over medium heat with a little olive oil in a 8" nonstick frying pan, then added my roughly chopped cooked nettles and the two eggs which I'd whisked with a little salt and pepper. If I were a cheese-eater, I might have added a little feta. When it seems nearly cooked but the top's still slimy, slide it onto a plate then invert it back into the pan so the top can cook. My soup was a little more complex, and I didn't measure the ingredients in advance, but I'll set it down here anyway in case you want to give it a try. Nettle Soup a couple of shallots, minced half a small celery-root, trimmed, peeled, and diced 1T oleo a big bag of nettles, prepared as above and nettle-water saved 1C raw cashews, soaked in the nettle water for at least half an hour salt and pepper half a lemon's worth of juice chives, for garnish Cook the shallot and celery-root with the oleo in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat till it's tender. Add the netles, cashews and nettle water, salt and pepper, and about a quart of water (use your judgement about the amount of water, as you may have ended up with more or less nettles than I did), Bring to a simmer and cook for about five more minutes. Transfer to a blender (unless you have a big blender you'll have to do this in batches), add the lemon juice, and whiz till smooth. Serve immediately, with some snipped chives scattered over.