Tis the season to be green. Cook nettles.
What I like best about nettles is the color of the cooked puree—an amazingly dark, concentrated, yet vibrant green. It’s almost hypnotizing. You just know that it has to be one of the healthiest things you could ever eat. Luckily, it also tastes good.
I know, I titled this post “Nettle pizza” and this is a photo of soup. I forgot to take one of the pizza. The pizza idea came from Flour + Water in SF where one of the specialties is thin-crusted Neapolitan pizza. As I recall it had delicious alternating puddles of nettle puree and ricotta. So when a pound of nettles showed up as an add-on to Mariquita Farms Mystery Box, I signed on. Potatoes and leeks came in the box as well and thus was born on Day 2 of the nettle experience this nettle soup garnished with toasted sliced almonds and seasoned with a little truffle salt just to make it more luxurious.
Nettles began showing up at our SF farmers’ markets several years ago. They look innocent enough–a bright green, delicate leaf with an arrowhead shape and ruffled edges. Nettles are emphatically not innocent. They do sting. Like most of us, I learned about nettles the hard way—coming home in a tearful agony of itching because I’d walked through a big patch of nettles on the shortcut home from the dentist. Mom was not, in my opinion, suitably sympathetic, and no doubt applied her all-purpose remedy: a vigorous scrubbing with very, very hot water and Fels Naptha soap.
Since a quick dip in boiling water does take the sting out of nettles, Mom had it right with the hot water. So, buy your nettles already packaged, put on long rubber gloves when you rinse them clean, and then dump them into a pot of salted, boiling water. Stir them to make sure all the leaves get submerged and cooked. It only takes a minute and if you overcook them, you risk losing the color.
I didn’t bother with an ice bath but drained the nettles in a big strainer, shaking and rapping it to get rid of most of the water, and then pureeing the leaves in my big blender with a a couple tablespoons of pesto from last summer. The nettles were still hot and you have to be careful when blending hot items because you can blow the blender’s top off. Cleaning green off the ceiling would not be fun. But these were just cool enough to stay where they belonged. Once you have your puree you can freeze it, add some to pasta and gnocchi doughs, or use it to sauce pasta, beans, or rice. And of course, you can top a pizza with it.
For our pizza, we brushed the dough with olive oil, added a very light coating of our tomato sauce made last fall, and then interspersed the nettle puree and grated P’tit Basque cheese. It tasted unusual, yes, but delicious, too. As proof I offer the fact that the 18-year-old ate about three pieces and took some to school for lunch next day.