How to forage for nettles and how to use them in recipes
If you like eating fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and you’re up for a little foraging, nettles are a great place to start.
Yet they’re not as popular as they should be. If their sting puts you off, don’t be deterred, it’s neutralised in the cooking process.
Nettles are tasty and nutritious plants with all sorts of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, so they’re good for you too. All you need is a stout pair of gloves to pick them.
When to pick nettles
When the plant is young (February to April) it’s packed with character and flavour. It’s only the tender succulent tips that you’re after, the top four to six leaves.
How to use nettles
Nettles make a great alternative to more familiar greens, so use them in any recipe that calls for spinach, chard or kale. You just need to drop the leaves briefly in boiling water first to get rid of their sting.
Gill Meller’s nettle recipe
Nettle soup will always be a firm favourite, but this nettle and barley risotto is right up there too. Barley is an ancient cultivated grain used in Iron Age Britain to make dense loaves. Pearl barley, which has had the bran partially or entirely removed, is a great alternative to arborio rice. It tastes so good and it’s nearly impossible to overcook.
The lemon flavours, fennel seeds and goat’s cheese complement the nettles so well. Later, when the nettles are past their best, you can make this recipe with spinach instead.
3 more recipes to try
- Boil for 2-3 minutes in salted water until the stems are tender. Drain, then return to the pan with butter, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve as a side.
- Blanch the nettles in boiling water, then drain and refresh in cold water. Squeeze out the excess liquid and use instead of basil in a pesto.
- Prepare as for pesto (above), then mix into fresh ricotta and use to fill homemade cannelloni.
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