Weeds? Edible? Yes and yes. Stinging nettles, enemy of my youth while running and biking through east coast forests, have finally become a friend. These nettles were growing in upstate New York in a friends garden but they can be found pretty much anywhere including the side of the road. I experienced the edible pleasures of this plant during a great meal at Reynards in Brooklyn about a year ago, but had not seen them at any farmers markets last summer so had not the chance to cook with them until this past weekend. Nettles are an exceptionally dark green plant and are highly nutritious. They are rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium, and can have up to 25% protein. Do they taste good? Absolutely. They are very akin to spinach yet have a slightly nutty flavor. Easy to make? Ridiculously. Only 6 ingredients needed: nettles, shallots (or garlic), Parmesan, olive oil, butter, and bread.
Harvesting the nettles:
Get your gloves on! This plant means business and will sting you if you're not careful so make sure you use leather (or other impermeable gloves) to clip them. Like most leafy greens, they are most tender when young and I assume they get pretty fibrous as it gets older. Now is the perfect time (at least in NY) to harvest. Any amount you can get will do. Like spinach, these greens cook down quite a bit so the more the merrier. I used approximately 3-4 cups loosely packed, uncooked nettles.
Blanch those nettles:
The stingers are still very much on the plants, so you'll want to blanch to remove them...
1) Rinse the nettles in cold water
2) Bring a large pot of water to boil
3) Toss the nettles in the pot of boiling water for 2 minutes max.
4) Transfer nettles to an ice water bath briefly (about 30 seconds)
5) Drain immediately
Saute those nettles, toast the toast:
1) Chop the nettles, removing the parts of the stem you deem too thick.
2) Saute 2 cloves of garlic on low heat (or l large shallot) in a pan with a healthy dose of butter - 2-3 tablespoons will do. Add a bit of olive oil to the mix as well.
3) Slice then toast a baguette or other crusty bread.
4) When shallots soften or garlic just begins to brown slightly, throw in the nettles and turn heat to medium-low.
5) Cook nettles until tender and salt & pepper to taste. Be careful not to overcook!
6) Drizzle toast with olive oil then add the sauteed nettles on top.
7) Add some freshly shaved Parmesan and you are good to go!
Bam! Nettle Toast.
What more could you possibly want? A healthy, perhaps partially foraged lunch or snack that tastes amazing. You can impress your schmi organic, farmer's market eating, biodynamic referencing friends with this simple dish. You are the "friend" I just described? Ok, me too... impress yourself!
Next stop on the nettle train... nettle pesto. See link below for a how to: