Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why Nettles?

Dear Friends, I've been waiting for this time of year to write this post. Please excuse that it is a reprint of today's post on my professional blog found on EzekielsTable.com because I have just one thing to say about nettles...Yum!

Yes it's Time!

This early spring day with it’s cloud canopy, rain and wind is not getting me down. And do you know why? The nettles have sprung, and I love to cook with nettles! Yes, I’m talking about those omnipresent spiky weeds you never notice in the woods until you brush by them accidentally. First you feel a tingle which quickly elevates into a blistering sting followed by a rash that will last for a few days. Yep, those are the ones.


Who would know how good they taste? They have a lovely hearty herb-y flavor that is as close as I’ve found to the wild greens I used to gather in the mountains of Crete and eat with olive oil. Horta, they called it. I just called it ‘joy’ and I feel the same way about nettles. They also are amazingly nutritious and even do wonders for your tummy, skin and hair.

I have a bit of wilderness on my land where I was lucky enough to discover a large stand of those ornery friends a couple of years ago. Today I ventured out to that patch with gloves, scissors and a large bowl. Snipping the young herbs that were just peeking above the leaf cover, I gathered them into the bowl and carried them reverently back to my kitchen, where I covered them with water and a bit of salt. (Soaking them in the bowl with salt water removes some of the sting and draws out any insects.) The strange thing about the sting of those nettles is that it is gone in a flash as soon as the leaves come in contact with heat or are rubbed with salt. Drying them will do the same.

Today I’ll make a Macedonian Nettle and Cheese Pie. While it is best to get those nettles when they are young, I’ll continue to run out to that bit of wilderness from time to time all summer and snip the tops of the lengthening stalks (as one should use only the top 4 inches of the plant for eating). For a flavorful nutritious boost I chop them up and throw them into soups or anywhere I would normally use cooked spinach. You can even make a strained tea with the lower parts of the stalk and splash it on your face or use it as a hair rinse. (I even use nettle extract in my homemade skin cream.)

Nettles offer an important life lesson right there on the plate. They remind us that there are fewer enemies out there if one simply knows how to be with things. In a dark sort of way, I’ve just turned the table on them (so to speak), and made the nettles more afraid of me than I am of them! Then again, maybe they like me too. That stand of them in my wilderness I protect vigilantly, and they in turn yield to me their first sproutings of Spring.

Macedonian Nettle and Cheese Pie

From The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean cookbook by Paula Wolfert

Filling:
¾ to 1 pound young nettle tops
Coarse salt (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons snipped fresh mint
1 cup ricotta
1 cup (4 oz) grated fresh unsalted mozzarella
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Early in the day (or the day before), make the dough below.

1. Wash the nettle tops under running water. Rub with the salt or blanch in boiling water until wilted, then drain and squeeze out moisture. Chop coarsely. Makes about 1 ¼ cups.
2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil, add the scallions, and cook, covered, over medium heat 2 minutes, stirring, or until soft. Add the nettles and cook about 2 minutes, stirring, or until the oil has been absorbed; transfer to a plate to cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the greens, mint, and cheeses; add salt and pepper to taste; mix well with hands. Stir in the eggs. If the filling seems very dry, add the cream. Makes 1 quart filling.

Homemade Pastry Dough with Olive Oil
10½ oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
½ cup seltzer or soda water or 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing the dough
1 ½ teaspoons white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Approx. 3 cups filling

1. To make the pastry, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process 20 seconds. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for an instant, form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill at least 4 hours; better, chill overnight.
2. Meanwhile, prepare about 3 to 4 cups filling (see above).
3. Divide the dough in 2 parts. Roll out one piece of dough to make a 12-inch round. Brush with olive oil. Place a small ramekin in the center of the dough. Make 8 radiating spokes, at equal distances from the rim of the ramekin to the edge of the pastry. Remove the ramekin. Working clockwise, fold “wedges” one on top of the other to create a small packet. Leave to rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with the second round.
4. Roll the first packet of dough to line a 9-inch oiled tart pan or pie plate. Spoon the filling into the shell. Roll out the remaining dough just large enough to fit over the top of the pie shell and place it over the pie. Trim the edges, brush the top with olive oil, score the surface, and bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven until golden brown and well puffed. about 45 minutes.


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1 comment:

  1. These are great recipes. Last year we went to Paros for summer vacation and I just fell in love with Greek Horta - just boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice. Sad as I was, unable to find a substitute for Horta, today I noticed fresh nettles in the field behind our house (it's colder in Russia, so nettles appeared as late as in May). I just decided to give it a try. I picked up couple of plastic bags in a tiny grocery store nearby - I had no gloves with me so I used a plastic bag as hand protection, and quickly filled the other bag with young nettles. Now while they are soaking in the water with vinegar and salt, I decided to google "nettle horta" and found your excellent recipe! Thanks for giving me reassurance, I'm sure I'll have some great Horta today for lunch!!
    Regards,
    Astro. Near Moscow, Russia

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