CrisisCooking with Mrs Simkins
Love Your Nettles . . . and Eat Them
If you have a good crop of nettles springing up in the garden, why not eat them? With shopping trips limited and money a bit of a worry, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of some free greens.
Tasty, nutritious and free, what’s not to like? The tender tips are vitamin and mineral rich and have been a traditional part of our spring diet for centuries. Once heated to remove the sting, they are thought to be purifying and cleansing.
Use in any cooked recipe where you might use spinach: they make fantastic soups, puddings and pies or stir them through pasta or into risotto.
You can also eat dead nettle lamium album, including garden varieties, in the same way as the stinging variety.
Wear rubber gloves to pick and handle nettles until cooked. Harvest only the tender young tops
The official season for the tender tops is March to May when the plants run up to seed and the leaves become tough and too acidic and indigestible to eat. However, you can keep a patch of dedicated eating nettles if you become hooked: just keep cutting it down and eat only the fresh new growth.
Nettles are also great for attracting wildlife and, if you are into such things, a helpful plant to add to the compost heap.
The classic way to eat nettles, if you didn’t say, no-one would realise they were eating ‘stingers’.
- 1 average size colander of young nettle tops (harvested well away from busy roads and traffic pollution)
- 4 medium size potatoes
- 2 large onions
- 1 further onion
- 1-2 sticks celery including green leafy tops
- 1-2 carrots
- Knob of butter or couple of tablespoons oil for frying
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel and slice the 2 large onions. Fry gently until soft and golden.
Peel the other onion and the carrots. Cut the onion in half and the carrots into 4 length-wise.
Peel the potatoes and boil with the prepared onion and carrots and the celery, until the potatoes are tender.
Put on your rubber gloves and wash the nettle tops in cold water. Drain the cooking water from the potatoes into a pan and add the washed nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, and retain the cooking liquid.
Mash the potatoes, discarding the carrot, onion and celery.
Combine the fried onions with the potatoes and nettles. Add some of the cooking liquid and blend in a liquidiser or food processor. Add more cooking liquid as needed.
Transfer to a pan and heat through – don’t boil as this will impair the flavour. Check for seasoning: you may need a little salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread: croutons and fried bacon pieces scattered over the top also work well.
Use ready-made shortcrust, puff or filo if you prefer: you might even have some lurking in your freezer.
- 1 large leek, trimmed, cut into ¾ cm slices
- 500g boiled, sliced root vegetables: carrot, parsnip, swede, and celeriac (retain 100ml cooking water)
- 300ml milk
- 3 x level tablespoons cornflour
- Freshly ground black and ground white pepper
- 1 vegetable gel stock pot or similar
- 4 x gloved handfuls of young nettle tops, washed, dried and chopped
- Generous handful of chopped chives and parsley
Pastry – or use ready made shortcrust or puff or filo
- 340g strong bread flour (for extra flakiness)
- 170g cold salted butter, diced
- 5 tablespoons cold water
- 1 small egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Preheat oven to 180C (fan oven) gas mark 6 or equivalent
You will need a buttered 24cm pie dish
Steam leeks until tender. Set aside.
Mix cornflour to a smooth paste in a heavy-bottomed pan with 2-3 tablespoons milk. Gradually add remaining milk and vegetable cooking water stirring constantly. Change to a whisk as it loosens.
Bring to the boil still whisking. Lower heat and whisk until smooth. Stir in pepper and stock pot.
Combine with vegetables in pie dish. Cool.
Whiz flour and butter into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add water and whiz until large clumps form. Remove from the machine and knead gently into a ball.
Roll out and mark a circle to fit the top of your dish. Grease the dish rim and line with a strip of pastry. Brush with egg-wash and lift pastry circle on top. Indent the edges to seal with a knife handle or similar.
Brush with egg-wash and decorate with pastry leaves. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
If using filo you’ll need about 6 sheets more or less. Brush melted butter over the first sheet and lay butter side down over the filling in the dish. Fold the edges back over themselves inside the dish and tuck in. Brush with melted butter. Repeat with the remaining sheets.
Filo from freezer got a bit dry and papery?
No worries, just carry on, butter any broken fragments on both sides and distribute between the layers. The butter, heat and steam will soften them up during baking.