Monday, March 23, 2009

In Season: Nettles?

The good news:

"Nettles are fantastically high in vitamins A and C, and rich in nutrients, including calcium, choline, magnesium, boron, iron, iodine, silica , sulfur, potassium, chlorophyll, histamine, serotonin, glucoquinones, bioflavonoids, tannins and amino acids. They're unusually high in protein (40%) for a plant."

The bad news:

"These are a great and healthful green to eat, but they are only eaten cooked. Take care when handling, they will sting while raw. It takes very little cooking to shed the stinging."

I think that qualifies them as "extreme food." They were eventually going to be the main ingredient, along with a couple of leeks from the farmers' market, in a tart I was making for an appetizer, and serving it with my hands wrapped in gauze would probably be less than appetizing for my guests.

So I donned my (brand-new) gardening gloves, dumped the bag of nettles into the colander, gave them a good rinse and then transferred them into a hot skillet to wilt. After they cooled, and without the gloves, the big stems were removed and the (now stingless) leaves were picked off. Basically tasting like spinach or fiddlehead ferns, I chopped them, squeezed out the water that remained and added them to the tart.

And I mean, how many times do you get to tell a story about risking your safety for the pleasure of your guests? So worth it!

Spring Leek and Nettle Tart

1 1/4 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick margarine, frozen and cut into eight pieces
2-3 Tbsp. ice water

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, margarine or oil
2 leeks, white parts only, halved, rinsed and cut in 1/4" slices
1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
4 c. nettles (not packed)
1 c. grated cheese
3/4 c. cream, half and half or milk
2 large eggs yolks
2 large eggs

For crust: Blend flour and salt in processor. Add margarine and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water and pulse until the dough starts to come together in the bowl. Remove, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

For filling: While dough chills, chop garlic, slice leeks and mushrooms and grate cheese. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in skillet and add garlic and leeks. Saute till wilted, then add mushrooms and saute till golden, about 10 minutes. Mix in thyme and cool.

Wearing thick gloves, dump nettles into colander and rinse. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in skillet and add nettles, cooking until nettles are wilted and most of the water they release has evaporated. Drain in colander and cool. Remove larger stems if desired and squeeze out water, then chop coarsely.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough and place in non-stick tart pan with removable bottom, allowing 1/2" overlap. Fold rim down with 1/8" of dough remaining above rim. Line crust with foil and bake 20 min. or until lightly golden. Remove foil.

Sprinkle cheese in crust. Cover with vegetables. Whisk cream, yolks and eggs in bowl and pour over ingredients in crust. Bake until filling is set and top is golden, about 30 min. Serve immediately or cool on rack.


Anonymous said...

Nettles can have kind of a rank taste; did you find them stronger than spinach?

The spring nettles are particularly strongly stingy. I have a tip: the spines only "fire" once, so if you roll them in a towel or smack 'em against something, they'll be easier to handle.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Gosh, these were quite mild and very tender, certainly no stronger than (lightly steamed) spinach. They seemed to be mostly the newer buds and small leaves, very lush. Maybe that would make a difference?

Good info about the spines, but I'm a big chicken, so I'll have to leave my gloves on!

Jenny said...

I just learned on wednesday- never eat nettles after they flower. But they make my favorite green sauce!

Jerry C. said...

Speaking of neglected springtime greens, there are oodles of Emily Dickinson's favorite perennial out there just waiting to have their tender leaves wilted and served with a dash of vinegar! The dandelion, Em's harbinger of spring is ubiquitous and not nearly as acerbic as its wilder. more truculent neighbor.


The Dandelion's pallid tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas --

The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, --
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o'er.

ED; 1881

Kathleen Bauer said...

Wow...poetry and recipes? It's a whole new genre! Thanks, Jerry!

And I understand (like nettles, apparently) it's better to pick the leaves before the plant flowers, i.e. when they're young and tender. True?

Eugenia said...

KAB: Sure, that would make a difference with the nettles.

The younger you can get your dandelions, the better, since the bitterness increases dramatically over time. The easiest way to tell is to go into your backyard and taste one! :)

Kathleen Bauer said...

Hey, the dogs are out there grazing on the spring grass...why not me?