Last night I attended an underground dinner, in association with Forage SF, in which our meal focused on wild foraged foods. Living in the pacific northwest, we have a bounty of naturally occurring ingestible&medicinal plants ... in addition to the proverbial weed.
Our lecturer taught us about a variety of weeds: dandelion, plantain, something I can't recollect, and stinging nettles.
Not only are these plants edible, they also have medical properties. The plantain leaf is commonly called the "band-aid plant" and can reduce inflammation. For example, if applied topically, it can help to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It also has the curious side effect of making you pee pee.
This talk intrigued me for its intellectual and holistic value, but moreover because I love free things and any chance to spite my diminishing wallet is one I shall spearhead! As a reward for my curiosity, I was graciously given a plate of stinging nettles. This morning I found myself sniffing around my backyard, giddy as a fat kid at Sizzler's, grabbing at Miner's lettuces. The pouring rain was inconsequential in comparison.
For the purpose of my tummy and this post, I wanted to focus on the stinging nettles and how I used them in this super simple pasta dish. For other articles on foraging, please check out my friend Jacky's article on Chefsblade.
Stinging nettles do as they are called: they sting. The thorns contain histamine and provoke an immune responses - notably inflammation. The inflammation is thought to assist in circulation. They are also high in Vitamin A and D, and good for your hair and rheumatism.
No, I have not been stung by a nettle (I'm a wuss), but I here it is not too bad -- like mild topical irritation. In fact, some prefer the prick. I have found that the weirder you are the more you like getting pricked. I spoke to a small range of prickers ranging from the earnest herbalist who enjoys it once in a while to the strange man at the market who made this off-handed comment:
"Yeah, people found out that the nettles stung a bit and started using them for sexual practice."
.... what? Did I miss something? Aren't we supposed to be living in fear of those such rashes? Didn't anybody see Ratatouille?
(1:50 of 3:10)
Anyways, I initially had this dish which Jacky. We got it from the Ferry Terminal Farmer's Market Cookbook, which is chalk full of recipes straight from the venders. People say that nettles taste like spinach. While there is a resemblance, I will try and do my best to explain how they are different:
- They are better, delicious- They do not have that tingly, tangy feeling you get when you eat too much spinach- The leaves are smaller and thinner, and when cooked they are more pulpy
Because they are pulpy, nettles work well in soups or sauces. For the ravioli pasta I made a hybrid. The sauces is loose, but thicker than soup. For protein I use a some egg.
STINGING NETTLES BURIED WITH RAVIOLI (serves 4) adapted
Total time - 30 minutes; active time - 30 minutes
SUMMARY: You will use the same pot to blanch the nettles, boil eggs, and boil the ravioli. Once the nettles are done, you will combine them with broth. Once everything is cooked, you will them together and done!
- 1/2 pound stinging nettles, stemmed (I didn't de-stem them and they were fine)- 1 T good olive oil + more for serving- 1 shallot, thinly sliced- 2 cups chicken stock- salt/pepper- 20 fresh ravioli (more if you think people eat more than that -- I did) I also used porcini mushroom ravioli, and swiss chard and sweet onion ravioli from the pasta shop.
- 4 eggs, room temp- Parmesan cheese for serving, grated/shaved
1. In a large pot (4-5 quart) of boiling salted water, blanch the nettles for 3 minutes. Do not drain the water. Instead, remove the nettles with tongs, and set aside. Keep the water roaring. It will be used later to cook the eggs, followed by the ravioli.
2. Boil the eggs, by carefully placing them in boiling water with a slotted spoon. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge them in ice cold water. Crack. Return to water. Peel. Quarter.
3. As the eggs boil, heat the olive oil in a medium size saucepan. Add shallots and saute on medium until translucent. Add chicken broth. Bring to boil. Add blanched nettles. Reduce by one fourth. 5 minutes. Remove from heat and dive it a douse of olive oil.
4. Seven minutes before serving, boil the ravioli as directed by package. Drain.
5. Divide the nettles into 4 bowls, add ravioli and egg quarters. Garnish with cheese, salt, pepper, and more olive oil.
Great as leftovers!