Zhenya’s Stinging Nettles

May 12, 2011 | By | COMMENTS

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You may recall that a few weeks ago, I befriended Zhenya, The Feral Gardener, while buying a Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda at Katz’s Deli.

On May 1st, Zhenya wrote me an e-mail: “I just picked a ton of very young stinging nettles and would be happy to give you at least half a ton…. Let me know if you’re interested.” Stinging nettles? Interested? I would have to seriously think about this.

Turns out I didn’t have to think too hard. I said “yes” and soon Zhenya arrived with the nettles. I offered him a piece of my sour cream coffee cake which, I think, was a fair exchange. When he left, I studied the bag, unsure of what I was going to do with them:

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I Tweeted that I had a bag of stinging nettles “what should I do with them?” And suddenly, like magic, a food world icon chimed in:

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Well that was pretty cool!

I put the bag in my refrigerator and the next day, I did my research. I learned that they’re called “stinging nettles” because they really do sting: they contain the same chemical that red ants do. To de-activate the chemical, you cook them (by steaming or boiling them.) But first you have to de-stem them and, in order to do that, you need gloves. So I bought some:

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[First, I went to RiteAid but their gloves had powder on them. It was at D'Agastino's that I found powder-free gloves which is pretty important when handling food.]

After doing more research online, I stumbled upon this fabulous-looking recipe on Sassy Radish’s site: Pasta with Stinging Nettles and Ramps Pesto.

This seemed particularly perfect because Zhenya had also brought me some ramps (I forgot to mention that.)

Right away, I got to work. I dumped the nettles into a large bowl and filled the bowl with cold water:

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I put the gloves on and swished the nettles all around. Then I got to work pulling the leaves off the stems. There were a lot of leaves to go through:

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By the time I finished, I needed to pour myself a glass of wine. So I had a glass of this Vernaccia the nice people at Sea Grape (my new favorite wine store) recommended for the dinner:

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The rest was pretty easy.

I separated the ramp leaves from the stems and sliced up the stems, just like I did with that asparagus and ramp risotto I posted on Monday:

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I added the chopped up stems to a pan with olive oil:

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And sauteed them until they were slightly tender (not at all brown.) Then I added all the nettles, the ramp leaves (which I’d also chopped up) and a nice pinch of salt:

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Pretty quickly, the ramp leaves began to wilt. A few minutes later, it looked like this:

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That’s all it takes to take the sting out of the nettles.

Once you’ve done that, set the pan aside and toast some nuts. I toasted walnuts, but you can use pine nuts here too:

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[Note: I only used about 1/3rd of those nuts for the pesto.]

Let them cool slightly and then add them to a blender with the cooked nettles and ramps. Start blending and then gradually add olive oil until you have a nice, saucy pesto:

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Add a big handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a big squeeze of lemon juice and enough salt to make it taste fantastic:

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When it tastes pretty great, pour it into a pan and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

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Salt the water and drop in your favorite pasta (preferably one with nooks and crannies to hold the pesto; I chose cavatappi.)

When the pasta’s cooked all the way through (taste to know), drain it and then add it to the pan with the pesto and toss all around (no need to turn on the heat; you’re just using the pan as a vessel to distribute the pesto and pasta. You could also do this in a bowl.):

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How did it taste?

Pretty amazing. I want to say that it tasted “swampy” but I’m not sure that’s appetizing. It just had this deep, grassy, green thing going on; like the flavor you get when you cook winter greens for a long time, only not as muddy.

All-in-all, I’m a stinging nettle convert and I have the rubber gloves to prove it. So thank you, Zhenya, for bringing me those stinging nettles! I’m glad that I said “yes.”

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Categories: Pasta and Risotto, Recipes