Photo Credit: Emma Alter
I got a stack of new cookbooks the other day, and my daughter and I were happily sitting by our newly planted vegetable garden looking through them when she got all excited and said "nettles! nettles!" after finding a recipe for stinging nettles in the book she was perusing. We've had a bit of a glut of nettles lately, and are always on the lookout for new ways to use them, but finding recipes for nettles in cookbooks is unusual.A lot of the recipes I have used like the risotto, or the nettle ricotta tart have the nettles mixed in well with other ingredients, but this the nettles take front and centre stage. We noticed the difference in texture from other times we have eaten nettles. If you look carefully at the nettles before you blanch them you can see minute needles spread out across both the leaves and the stems. This is what delivers the sting, and you can feel the roughness of them on your tongue when you eat them, which initially was a bit odd, but is actually quite pleasant. I realize that nettles are not always the easiest of ingredients to come by, so if you can't find any, you could substitute spinach, Swiss chard or kale for this recipe. If you don't have any oriecchitte on hand, pasta shells would work nicely here, allowing the nettles to rest inside the shell. Once again, this recipe calls for 1 lb of pasta for 4 people, which still seems like a huge amount to me.
This recipe is from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian by Domenica Marchetti.
Orecchiette with Butter-Braised Nettles
12 oz stinging nettles
Fine sea salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small fresh hot chili, minced, or a generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb orecchiette or other short sturdy pasta
3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Wearing gloves to prevent stinging, cut the tough stems off the nettles and rinse well. Using the cloves or tongs, place in the boiling water and blanch until wilted, 1 - 2 minutes. Drain and let cool, then chop coarsely. Fill the pot with fresh water. Salt generously and bring to a boil.
2. While the water is heating, in a large suacepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the garlic and chile and stir to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1 - 2 minutes. Add the nettles and 1 tsp salt. Using the tongs, toss the greens to coat well. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the orecciette to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes or according to the package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the pan with the green sand toss well to combine. Add a splash or two of the pasta-cooking water to loosenn the sauce, if needed. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pasta and toss again. Divide among 4 shallow bowls, garnish each serving with some of the remaining cheese, and serve.