Friday, March 23, 2012

Another "use it up" recipe (or bravery in the kitchen)

I've travelled to almost every corner of the United States. Each area I have visited has its own unique beauty, but no where else have I found the diversity of plants that are here in my little corner of the world. My husband and I own a tiny little piece of the "Evergreen State"--one and one-half acres in the Puget Sound region.

When we bought the property years ago, it was completed blanketed with hazelnut, dogwood, maple, and alder trees and the undergrowth was a tangle of ferns, huckleberries, and briars. Twenty years later one acre has been pretty much "tamed"--wild berries and weeds have been replaced by shrubs, perennials and annual flowers. But the "back" one-half acre is still forested and wild.
There is a nature trail that meanders through that section of our property, providing an amazing display of native plants--huckleberries, ferns, trillium, and numerous wildflowers. We are so blessed to be here.

However, there is one rather unwelcome plant that raises its ugly little head each Spring--the stinging nettle. For the unaware or uninitiated, stinging nettles are a beautiful plant (see photo above), but the stems and leaves are covered with millions of tiny hairs--each one ready to release a painful dose of formic acid at the merest brush. The sting causes extreme pain and welts that can last anywhere from several hours to several days.

Well, guess what I did today? I harvested nettles!! Yes, call me crazy, but these denizens of the forest are wonderfully tasty and nutritious if you know how to conquer their "wild side". A brief simmer in boiling water is all that is needed to tame the beast and have a nutritious deep green vegetable ready to be sauted, simmered in soup, or turned into a rich pesto.  Cooked nettles are slightly remeniscent of spinach, but slightly less bitter. 

(I wonder what brave soul first attempted to eat nettles?)

First, you need to wear protective gloves when harvesting nettles. Not canvas or cotton--something non-absorbant such as vinyl or cowhide. Snip just the top part (or first three levels) of leaves and place in a clean bucket. Keep clipping until your bucket is full. Bring your harvest into the kitchen.

Next, bring a large pot of water to boil.

Don a clean pair of rubber gloves and place you nettles into the kitchen sink. Run a bit of water over your harvest and then begin plucking leaves from the plants. Place the leaves in a colander and discard the stems.

Scoop the leaves into the boiling pot of water. Set your timer for 3 minutes, and stir the pot once or twice so that all of the leaves are submerged into the boiling water.

After 3 minutes drain the cooked nettle leaves into a colander and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze the water out of the cooked nettles (yes, they are safe to touch!). Give them a rough chop on your cutting board and then toss into the food processor. Now you're ready to make pesto.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

  • cooked nettles, squeezed dry, roughly one cup
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Whir until finely chopped. While the blade is moving  slowly pour in:

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
Stop and taste your pesto. You'll probably need to add a bit of salt. If the mixture seems too thick, add some water (about 2 tablespoons).

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