Monday, 17 August 2009

Getting back

The first time I ran into nettles, it was literally. Mauled on my way to the beach, my whole bathing-suited body was stung, and I spent most of my time in front of the waves whimpering from the unfamiliar annoyance.

Since then, I have, of course, done my best to avoid the nettle plant, steering clear of anything resembling the horrible plant.

And then, I learned you could eat it. What better revenge?

The main preparation I had heard of was nettle pesto. But it's hard to beat the fabulous basil and roasted garlic pesto my dad makes almost every week, so I steered clear of that.

Instead, on my drive home through the hills, I got it into my head I would make a frittata. Puffy with beaten eggs, the nettles would sit cozily (yet vigorously chopped!). And then when I opened one of my favorite cookbooks, Local Flavors by Deborah Madison, there it was: a perfectly simple recipe for nettle frittata with soft ricotta cheese.

Unfortunately, the green garlic called for in the recipe is long gone at the market, and I didn't have any fresh ricotta on hand either. But a few mature garlic cloves and a soft goat cheese paired beautifully.

Just out of the oven, the frittata had an earthy smell - distinctly different than something a bit more tame like spinach. Just in those first few whiffs, we could tell there was something wild going on, and then when we tasted it, the deal was sealed. The earthiness of the nettle with the tang of the goat cheese played perfectly with the each other. With some bright red tomatoes on the side, we had a fast a delicious dinner.

Hardly tamed, the nettles were still beaten.

Nettle Frittata with Goat Cheese
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

1/2 - 3/4 pound nettles, rid of large stems
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 eggs
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/3-1/2 cup goat cheese
1 1/2 tbsp butter

1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Plunge nettles into water, cook for about two minutes until limp and bright green, then drain. Press out the extra water then chop.

2) Preheat broiler. Chop garlic and onions. Warm oil in a 10-inch skillet, add garlic and onions, cook until softened. Add nettles and cook until all water has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

3) Beat the eggs with a bit of salt, then stir in the parmesan and the nettle mixture. Crumble in the goat cheese, gently mixing so there remain blobs of cheese.

4) Wipe out the skillet and heat butter. When pan is hot, pour in eggs. Let cook for 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat, then slide pan under broiler and continue cooking until eggs have just set and are beginning to turn golden.

Serves 4 generously


  1. hi tess,
    do you wear gloves to harvest the nettles and pluck the leaves from the stem? I wish i ate as healthily and wildly as you do!
    i am making ice cream sandwiches: lemon juice and zest mixed into vanilla ice cream, a compote of raspberries and lemon (recipe called for bluberries, i am bravely improvising) and instead of fussing with baking the outside i am using my favorite chocolate cookies (a very thin wafer). Also improvised with a bit of chocolate sauce stirred in with compote and ice cream.

  2. Wow, sounds delicious. The best thing about nettles as a food is that they grow everywhere.

    I guess it's obvious, you'll want to wear gloves when picking, de-stemming and chopping them.

    In my experience young nettles are the best for cooking with. Is that what you went for?

  3. I was lucky enough to have someone else gather the nettles for me, and then I avoided touching the leaves until they were cooked (when they are harmless). But yes, gloves are a good idea.

    The leaves were relatively small, less than three inches across I'd say, and still clung to the ends of their stems. I found that once cooked and chopped, some stem didn't really bother me.

    Barbara, those ice cream sandwiches sounds amazing!