Cooking on the Wild Side: Bruny Stinging Nettles.
Just returned from a trip on the Ghan (which is quite another story) that started in Darwin and ended a few gastronomically delightful and scenically splendid days later in Adelaide.
Whilst in Adelaide, a ‘must’ is always a visit to the Central Market (plenty of diverse food produce), China Town (lots of different clay cooking pots and braziers) and the cultural triad of North Terrace: the State Library, the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Whilst cruising the Museum, the following information on a stinging nettle sample caught my eye………Stinging nettles (uritica incisa) both native and introduced species were used in the Lower Murray to disguise joint pain. The sting of the leaves made the ache seem less severe.
(From the collection of P A Clarke, found at Rakkan (80km south east of Adelaide) on the shores of Lake Alexandrina (1985).
Not just an amusing notion of alternative therapy, but the act of being stung by one of these fierce little critters actually has a name! Urtification is the process of deliberately stinging the skin with nettles. Apparently urtification has been used successfully for treating rheumatism and arthritis by tricking the nervous system into overlooking deeper pain.
Roman soldiers, chilled by the cold, often rubbed their feet and hands with nettles to bring back their circulation and they also made nettle cordials.
Convicts were punished with nettle lashes used across their bare backs. Aborigines ate nettle leaves after baking them between hot stones and the colonists used them to to make a tonic for “clearing the blood”.Rich in vitamins and minerals, stinging nettles are good for you.
Nettles seem to be the only things I can manage to grow that won’t get attacked by the wallabys or possums on Bruny Island, my idyllic home away from home, and fresh young nettles are to be had in abundance at the moment. A couple of batches have been used to date to make pesto (with the remainder of my wild walnuts) and nettle soup.
Wild Nettle Pesto.
Making this is best done empirically – the ‘suck it and see’ method, so there are no set amounts in this recipe.
With gloved hands and scissors, forage a good (supermarket) bag full of young nettle leaves. Or if you’re not into foraging too far afield then contact Michelle Dyer of Harvest Feast down at Salamanca Market in Hobart, Tas.Nettles need to be blanched in boiling water. This not only removes the toxins that cause the sting, but it also, especially if they are put straight into a bowl of iced water, enhances and keeps the colour to a near state of fluorescence. Once blanched, strain through a sieve and squeeze as much water out as possible. Take the towel and roll the greens in it, twisting in opposite directions. At this stage, you can pop the nettles into a plastic seal bag and freeze them until ready to use at a later date.Gather the following ingredients: walnuts (can be replaced with pine nuts, peanuts, cashews), grated parmesan, a good olive oil, couple (or three) cloves of garlic, a touch of lemon and either place the lot in a blender, or hand blend in mortar and pestle – this latter being the satisfactory if you have the time.
Do the whole thing by taste! (nb: check out Californian Hank Shaw’s site Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook). The above pic is from his site where he has a number of other good nettle recipes.This pesto was just ladled thickly onto hot toast………….……..and the remainder stirred through some Japanese udon noodles.
With yet another batch of fresh young leaves, Brunyfire rustled up a wild nettle soup from River Cottage’s well known forager, John Wright. Also check out the excellent article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – his recipe is more involved than John’s, and I think takes away somewhat from the essence of ‘wild’!
Wild Nettle Soup.
Nettle soups are a mainstay of European cuisine: Scandinavian nässelsoppa, Italian zuppa di ortiche, Russian borsh s krapivoj. Himalayans stew them with rice and spices to make a thick porridge.
- Half a carrier bag of young nettles
- 50 gms butter
- 1 large onion (or a dozen wild garlic bulbs – these were found by jetsetvagabond)
- 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 large potatoe, peeled and cubed
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- 2 tbsp crème fraîche
- A few drops of extra-virgin olive oil
- A few drops of Tabasco
- Wearing rubber gloves, sort through the nettles, discarding any thick stalks, wash and drain in a colander.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for 5–7 minutes until softened.
- Add the stock, nettles, potato and carrot, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potato is soft, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and puree with electric hand-held stick blender – season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into warmed bowls and float a teaspoonful of creme fraiche on top. As this melts, swirl in a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and Tabasco.