The majority of people don’t have the best opinion about nettles. I didn’t, too: they are itchy and they make my skin rushed with little red dots. This, until I found out about edible wild plants and yes, stinging nettle is one of those.
Nettle grows all over the world and it is widely used in the kitchen for recipes that go from soup to puree and stew. It is fascinating to imagine people in the past who went beyond the stinginess and discovered that the plant is actually edible and not poisonous. Thanks to them, we can now share this knowledge and enjoy the flavor and benefits of this amazing herb.
Stinging nettle has a flavour similar to leafy greens such as spinach and chard and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It abounds in springtime, when the plant gives its best in terms of edibility and flavor. It is mainly consumed cooked after a process of soaking, which removes the stinging chemicals from the plant. It is incredibly high in proteins (up to 25% in its peak season, much more than spinach). The leaves and the flowers of stinging nettle can also be dried and used to make detox tisanes. It can have some positive results in the treatment of dandruff and inflammations.
In my family, nettle has always been used in frittata or risotto, never as a soup, which seems pretty popular here in the UK. Although tempted to experiment with soup, the first thing that popped into my mind as I saw it growing wild in Wimbledon park was actually a savory tart. Something rustic, filling, down-to-earth that could match well the essence of this wild herb.
I went back to the park the day after with gloves, a bag and some scissors. In a few minutes, I was at home washing the leaves, and making my dough for the tart. My ancestral instinct of gatherer and forager had been satisfied for a while.
- 2 cups (8.8 oz) whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tbsp chopped chives
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup very cold water
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup crème fraiche
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tbs chives
- 4 handfuls nettle
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup sliced or crumbled goat cheese (I used half of a Chabichou)
In a large bowl, combine flour with salt and chives. Add the oil and mix with a wooden spoon to incorporate, then add the water little by little and keep mixing with the spoon and then with your hands until the dough comes together. Shape into a ball, cover with clean film and store in the fridge for 30 minutes. In the meantime, rinse and drain the nettle.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for a few minutes, until golden. Add the nettle, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Mix with a wood spoon every now and then, until nettle is tender and cooked, about 4 minutes. Remove the garlic clove and set aside.
Prepare the filling: in a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the crème fraiche. Add salt, pepper and chives to the egg mixture. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375° F (180 C). Take the dough out of the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough using a rolling pin. Give it a round shape and roll it until it is about 3mm thick. Grease a 10-inch tart pan with some olive oil or butter. Transfer the rolled dough into the pan and press to let the dough adhere to the edges and the corners. Remove any exceding dough. Fill the shell with the cooked nettle, then pour the egg mixture evenly on the whole surface. Move the pan to spread around. Top with goat cheese slices or crumbles. Fold the edges of the tart shell toward the center.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the shell is crisp and the filling settled. Remove and let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
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