There is one plant in particular which seems to do remarkably well on our fenland soil. I seem to be particularly adept at growing it. Fortunately it's an excellent plant for bugs such as aphids, which attract more garden-friendly predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies.
However there's a sting in the tail. For the humble stinging nettle crops up everywhere and takes persistence to control. As well as forming impenetrable patches, it bites when it's least expected, as you are peacefully going about your daily garden pottering.
But there is a solution.
For nettles are indeed very tasty. They can be substituted into any recipe which uses spinach and have a pleasantly distinctive, almost nutty flavour.
Garlicky Nettle Pesto
Delicious as a light coating for pasta. If you make a double portion, you can freeze this in ice cube trays too.
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (I used walnuts, as that's what I had in)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or cheap substitute)
Add the nettles to a large pot of boiling salted water stirring continuously, for 2 minutes.(This denatures their sting.) Drain into a colander and squeeze out the water. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.
|Pasta tossed in garlicky nettle pesto.|
Finely chop the garlic, pine nuts (or walnuts), salt and pepper to taste. You can do this in a food processor. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whizz until finely chopped. Gradually add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.
Stinging Nettle Gnocchi
Something a little different. Go on, give it a try! For this recipe you do need to use a floury potato (I used King Edwards), to avoid using too much flour in the recipe. It is possible to freeze the uncooked Stinging Nettle gnocchi (after they have been shaped and lightly dusted in flour to stop them sticking) for a week or two and then cooking them from frozen.
600g potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces
150g well-washed nettle tops
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
120g plain flour
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
12 sage leaves, finely shredded
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or substitute)
Few chopped nuts of your choice
|Nettle Gnocchi and Garlicky Nettle Pesto ready for the freezer|
Fragrant Nettle and Chive bread
Ingredients to make two small 1 lb loaves
100 g nettle leaves
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 heaped tsp finely chopped
500 g strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
7 g (1 sachet) fast-action dried yeast
270 ml water
salt & freshly ground black pepper
(60-90 mins). Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knock it back. Divide into two equal portions, then shape it into loaves and place in two lightly oiled 1 lb loaf tins – or flowerpots. Cover and allow to prove again for 60—80 minutes. The loaves should come to just below the rims of the tins or have increased by two-thirds.
This is a soup with substance, a filling bowlful of hearty satisfaction. Pepped up with the warmth of some aromatic spices it is perfect for those evenings when the sun dips a little too fast leaving the seven o’clock air with a surprising, biting chill.
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
A baking potato, peeled and diced
Two onions, sliced
As much garlic as you wish
Spices: cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, star anise – take your pick
Lots of fresh nettle tops
A tin of chickpeas
Vegetable stock, about 3 pints
Fry off your chosen spices in a little oil until they in turn start to release their oils. The smell will change, just take care not to burn them else you will add a bitter note to the soup. Crush them in a pestle and mortar then add the garlic.
Fry the onion until soft then add the potato (both sweet and regular). Give it a little colour then add the spices and garlic before covering with stock. Leave to simmer until the potatoes are cooked then blend and pass through a sieve to remove and rogue crunchy spices.
|Some of the Veg Group enjoying a nettle feast.|
Quote of the night "It looks worse than it tastes"!!!
Many were more positive though.