Monday, 8 March 2010

A different kind of spring tonic

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

This time of year, the first greens of spring are always welcome. Winter greens can be heavy and tiresome, most growing since last fall and then simmering through winter, a welcome respite for sure, but not the same as the first tender shoots that spring brings.

The much maligned Stinging Nettle Urtica diocia is one of those greens. High in vitamins and minerals, it is a very useful wild plant to know instead of fear. With a high chlorophyll content it is useful in smoothies, teas, & concoctions.

But for this post, I'll just share a recipe for pesto made with nettles. Healthy fresh food almost anyone will eat. Sometimes the people who will benefit the most from a brilliant green smoothie are the first to turn up their nose at something they perceive is BAD, like a stinging nettle. Pesto goes down a little easier... . And with spring still really a ways off, and summer even farther - it will be a long time before cilantro or basil pesto is on the menu.

Stinging Nettle is a perennial, so its roots can uptake heavy metals and pollution, so if you don't have nettles at home and are foraging, make sure to stay away from roadsides, areas with industrial pollution or conventional farming tracts. Here in our area, stinging nettle is associated with the "clover of the woods," Red Alder Alnus rubra. Stinging nettle loves the nitrogen rich soil around the alder, lacking an alder patch, areas on farmland where there is a high concentration of old manure is a good place to look too.

Using gloves to harvest will protect you from the sting of the hairs, and until the plant blooms, the sting is usually just a mild irritant anyway.

Like any other green, nettles really cook down, but a good armful is plenty for a batch of pesto. Especially if you decide you don't like it. Select tender young tops, leaving some behind for another harvest. Today I harvested the top six inches of the plants I found, leaving behind four inches or so to re-sprout.

We make pesto out of lots of greens and herbs, mixing and matching with what's available at the time.

Basic Pesto 1 cup

4 - 6 garlic cloves
4 Tablespoons lightly roasted nuts
4 - 5 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup greens (after cooking for nettles)
Salt to taste
Olive oil to taste - 1/4 cup or so depending on desired consistency

Nettles need to be blanched to remove the sting from the hairs on the leaves and stems. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt, bring back to boil, add nettles using tongs. Blanch for a minute or two until bright green, remove from water and plunge nettles in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Drain in a colander, *reserving juice, wring out the nettles to release all the water. You can do this with a towel, or you can just use your hands.

*Optional: To steel yourself for serving nettles at the dinner table and maybe lying about it, hold your nose and drink the reserved juice.
Just kidding, it has a salty, medicinal taste, not too bad really, and remember, its good for you, so bottoms up!

If you're a foodie, get out your mortar and pestle and get pounding, but if you're pressed for time at dinner and still have to get the pasta mixed, so it can rest, I would say use your food processor, or even a knife works wonders.

My daughter whipped this up while I was doing kitchen clean-up. It took longer to roast the hazelnuts than it did to make the pesto. Truly a fast meal, made with items on hand. Delicious!

What do you think? Too far out there - or do you think this is something you would try?