Talk of nettles and most folk flinch, recalling run-ins in fields with shorts. The thought of eating or even harvesting them isn’t exactly met with exuberance. Like most things involving gardening, it draws an analogy with life, as I was once taught to “grasp the nettle”. If you aren’t committed and show fear by brushing them, they will sting; but if handled with confidence, the grasp will break the needle and you won’t be affected. Now I handle nettles without gloves in the kitchen. Hardcore.
The thing with plants found outside of a more controlled growing situation is that I tend to harvest them in large amounts. The sauce that is the base of this recipe can be put in jars or frozen to be used across many applications – for example, rolled through an omelette, or used with fish, or to finish a potato soup.
The other benefit of dealing with nettles in large quantities is you can have a little party and invite your friends around to process nettles. Although that has never worked for me, I would be very happy to hear of anyone having success.
Stinging nettles are a weed and also one of the most nutrient-rich plants to consume. They grow in nitrogen-rich environments, are very hardy and also very easy to propagate. Superfood, I hear you ask. I probably wouldn’t go that far, but I am surprised to have not seen them feature in green smoothies. Yet.
– 1 shallot, sliced
– 1 garlic clove, sliced
– 200ml grapeseed oil
– 500g stinging nettles, picked
– 250ml chicken stock (or kombu stock to keep vegetarian)
– salt and pepper
– 2 cups short-grain biodynamic rice
– 1 litre water
– 1 litre chicken stock (or kombu stock)
– 50g cultured butter
– salt and pepper
– 20ml lemon juice
– 20 nettle leaves, toasted
– 10g black truffle (optional)
Sweat the shallot and the garlic in the oil over a low heat until transparent, then crank the heat up to high and add the nettles. The nettles need to fry quite heavily, so resist the urge to add the liquid too early. Frying the leaves extracts the chlorophyll into the oil, keeping the sauce vibrant. If the nettles are just boiled in the liquid, the sauce will be brown and listless.
Once the leaves begin to disintegrate, add the stock and boil aggressively for about one minute. Transfer to a strong upright blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper.
Rinse the rice once in a colander, then add to a pot with a snug-fitting lid and solid base. Add the water. Bring to the boil for eight minutes, then turn to a mid-to-low heat for a further eight minutes.
Remove from the heat for a further eight minutes before fluffing the rice and turning it onto a tray to cool.
Bring the stock to a boil, then add the rice. Simmer gently for about four minutes, before adding about 250 millilitres of the nettle sauce (or as much as you like, really). The rest of the sauce can be reserved for other uses. Finish with the butter, salt, more pepper than you think it needs, and lemon juice.
To finish the plate, add toasted nettle leaves that are prepared by spraying the leaves with oil and placing on a heavy tray in a 120ºC oven for 14 minutes. Grate truffle over the dish if you wish.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 21, 2018 as "Full nettle packet". Subscribe here.