Let me take a moment to tell you about this horrible green thing that terrorized me as a child.
I used to be a carefree little forest sprite, frolicking through the woods whenever I pleased.
When on one occasion, I was suddenly seized by the feeling that an entire hive of bees had decided to sting me.
I gathered that it was a plant of some sort, but my first encounters with it were in areas so lush, I couldn’t tell which one of them was the culprit.
It seemed like such a horrible, rare occurrence. I had been in those woods all my life and never had anything like this happen.
I was somewhat more hurt by the way my mother seemed to trivialize it, saying “Oh it was just a stinging nettle.” … JUST a STINGING NETTLE!? A being capable of causing such immense pain, so perfectly camouflaged into my every day stomping grounds?
She may as well have said “Oh, it’s just the Chupacabra. It attacks children if there’s no goats around.”
“Oh, it was just Predator.”
It was a few years before I encountered them again. That time, I was able to tell what stung me.
Last year, my girlfriend and I went up into the narrows of the Georgia Straight to visit her cousin who lives off the grid with her husband and their child.
The second day there, we went clam digging. That night for dinner, along with the loads of cockles and littlenecks, sea urchin and oysters, we ate mashed yams and steamed nettles.
It turns out, they’re really tasty.
During the trip, we had collected a huge bag of them which we brought back to dry.
Coincidentally, as we were arriving home, we noticed one nettle plant growing in our garden. This year it’s spread and we now have this wonderful patch of it.
Yes there’s weeds in my garden. Do you want to go weeding the nettle patch? Didn’t think so.
There’s all kinds of things you can do with them. They make a nice tea which is good for a lot of things. It turns out this thick, dark, murky, brownish, green liquid.
They’re great on their own, steamed, which usually causes a lot of the juice to collect in the bottom of the pan, so you get the tea anyway. It’s also good as a soup broth.
You just need to be lucky enough to know where to find them… Or unlucky enough to have found them already.
When you’re collecting them, use gloves, obviously.
Generally the buds and small leaves at the very top are the most tender and juicy. I don’t mind cutting a little further down the stock, but too far and it gets woody, also best not to take too much or you’ll kill the plants.
I think we must have had a cold night here a little while ago, because most of the leaves on mine started to wilt. Some of the plants looked completely dead.
I collected any of the leaves that looked damaged and cut the stems of the ones that didn’t seem to have any new ones growing. They might be a little woody, but we’ll dry them out and use them for tea if nothing else.
Any chance you get, collect as many as you can and dry them.
They store well and re-hydrate nicely.
Due to the sudden need to harvest, I got to try something last night that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.
All you need is:
Olive Oil – 500ml ( 2 cups). Probably not all of it, but it’s a safe amount to have available.
This is one of the few times I’m going to ever recommend using a less fragrant, less flavourful olive oil. The nettles have a strong flavour, but it was a little overpowered by the oil I was using. I could taste them, I just wanted to taste them more.
Garlic – 5 cloves to a whole head.
Black pepper – To taste. A tablespoon give or take a tablespoon.
Pasta – 500 grams/1lb
You’ll need a fair amount of nettles. This is all very rough estimates of proportions. You can’t go wrong using more I don’t think. It’s alright to use some of the more mature leaves for this because you’ll be dicing them up quite fine.
Take a large sauce pan big enough to cook the bag of pasta, fill that with nettles without packing it down too much. That should be enough.
-Put the nettles in a vegetable steamer and put a very small amount of water in the bottom of the sauce pan. Maybe a quarter inch.
Get it really hot, but don’t steam them too long. At this point you’re just trying to remove it’s ability to sting. You still want the juices to stay inside the plant. They’ll go all limp and if you don’t mind risking the sting, touch them to see if they’re still biting.
-Let them cool then chop them up fine.
-Crush or dice the garlic and fry it lightly in a bit of oil.
-Put the nettles, pepper and garlic in a bowl, muddle it up as best you can, then add some olive oil.
The nettles will probably soak up a fair bit of oil so keep adding it until it seems like they’re actually sitting in liquid. Stir it up and let it soak for an hour or so.
Or if you have a small food processor, you can slurry it up in there. It will probably speed things up in terms of soaking time, too.
Alternatively to steaming them, I’d suggest putting the nettles in a pan with some olive oil and frying them down, stir in the pepper and add the crushed/diced garlic so it cooks just a little.
This will probably cook more of the juices out into the oil. But the only easy way to chop it up after will be in a food processor.
This method may even require less oil to be added after it’s been processed, because more of the plant will have been liquefied and will be easier to spread throughout the pasta.
Prepare your pasta as normal, then mix it all together. It should turn a pleasant green.
Add any meats you think you might like. In my pestos I often throw in some fried prosciutto or pancetta, again, not too much or you’ll overpower the nettles. Shrimp, chicken or scallops are also good. But it’s great on it’s own.
Of course, you don’t need to make it to these exact proportions, or even put it on pasta.
Basil pesto is good in all sorts of things and I’m sure this is no exception.
Put it in a chicken panini, sandwich, salad, lightly fried portobello. Whatever you think it goes with.
So, if like me, you’ve unknowingly run headlong into these jagged-leafed pain elementals. Remember, revenge is a dish best served sprinkled with parmigiano cheese and a dry, beefy, red wine.