Monday, February 08, 2010

In Season NW: First Appearance

You gotta give credit to the first person to gather and then figure out how to eat stinging nettles. Granted, they must have looked appetizing, the bright green leaves and fleshy stems poking up out of the cold ground on those ancient early spring days. But one unprotected encounter with them, as with any vicious beast, would be enough to kill anyone's appetite for subsequent meetings.

Stinging nettles.

Last year was the first time I'd tried cooking with them, and the Spring Leek and Nettle Tart I made as an appetizer was a big hit. Then recently my friend Hank Shaw wrote about his quest to conquer this challenging herb, and inspired me to go at it again.

The unrolled, flattened roast.

It didn't hurt that Dave had indicated his desire to smoke some pork in the near future, and I'd bought a couple of bags of nettles from the Urban Farm Market the day before. So a quick trip to the store for my current favorite budget cut, a boneless pork leg roast, had us prepping a nettle pesto stuffing for it to go on the grill that very night. (See also my recipe for Stuffed Pork Leg Roast with Kale and Pine Nuts.)

Stuffed, rolled and tied (just like the rodeo).

A side dish of papardelle with wild mushrooms and this was one early spring dinner that was thankfully painless and, at the same time, very hard to beat.

Pork Leg Roast with Nettle Pesto Stuffing

For the pesto:
2 c. nettles (remember to wear heavy gloves when handling the fresh herb)
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 c. fine bread crumbs
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. parmesan, finely grated
Salt to taste

For the roast:
3-lb. pork leg roast
Butcher's twine

Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. Wearing heavy gloves to prevent nettles from stinging, add them to the boiling water. Boil for 1 minute, then, using tongs or slotted spoon, remove them from the pot and plunge into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and fix the color.

Remove nettles from the ice water with tongs and drain in a colander. Remove any large stems (you should be able to handle them with bare hands at this point), keeping the tender stalks and leaves. Wrap them in a kitchen towel and twist it tightly to remove all the water.

Put nettles, garlic, pine nuts and bread crumbs in bowl of food processor. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil and process till smooth, adding more olive oil if needed. Put nettle mixture into medium mixing bowl and add parmesan, stirring to combine. Add salt to taste.

Clip strings tying pork roast and unroll. If it's not an even thickness, use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts so it unrolls completely and becomes one even slab (see photo above). Reserving 1/4 c. of pesto, spread the nettle pesto over the interior surface of meat. Reroll and tie tightly with butcher's twine. Rub reserved pesto on outside of roast.

Grill over indirect heat until internal temperature reaches 125-130° (approx. 1 hour), then remove to cutting board, tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. (Other recipes call for an internal temperature of 155°, but we find that the meat tends to be overcooked and dry at that temperature.) You can also roast this in the oven at 350° for 1 1/2 hrs. or so until it reaches the same internal temperature.


koprime said...

you're in my rss feed and the title of this post made me really excited for asparagus...two months early? optimism never hurt anyone.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Keep your eyes open when the markets start up just a few weeks, KO…it'll be there first!

Norma Cravens said...

Oh my have made our nettles win the Greens Beauty Pageant. That looks amazing! Yum. Thanks for the motivation to not mind picking the little devils in the rain this week. With this El Nino winter, we may have morels in about 2 or 3 weeks. Bring on the Spring!