Sunday, January 07, 2007

Only the Criticism Stung - WHB

Some sleep in. Warm and cozy in a pile of blankets and pillows.

Some sip steaming hot coffee, wrapped in warm robes and slippers, reading about the latest movies, books or sports in the Sunday paper.

Some may even go out for an invigorating walk in the warm, early morning sun. Maybe to the nearby café for a Latte, before strolling home.

Others fight slings of barbs. Sharp, poisoned arrows of criticism, from all sides.

Yesterday, when we saw the first nettles of the season, I snapped them up. They look just like spring, even if it is only January. Super deep green. Bushy and full. I didn’t even have to touch them, as they were placed in a plastic sack by the Farmer’s Market guy.

Safely wrapped up, they went right into the fridge without anyone seeing them.

But the next morning, as I was working on blanching them, and stripping all the tender green leaves off the woody stalks, the comments came furious and stinging.


“What else is there to eat?”

“Why would you eat something like that?”

“How can you eat something you can’t even touch?”

“Bitter, bitter, bitter!!!”

This is what I have to put up with when I venture to try something new.

I had, however, been reading up on nettles. That despite their seemingly impenetrable coating of tiny little needles, each of which was loaded with some toxic acid that has been known to be able to kill a horse, I was assured that a quick blanching in boiling water would disarm the plant completely.

And would thereby make accessible to me all the unbelievable health benefits ascribed to this plant. Which seemingly can clear the skin, clean the liver, thicken hair, cure hay fever, eliminate asthma, control dandruff, and act as a sort of natural steroid for body builders. Among other things. More complete information can be found in the links below:

Most seem to make tea from this stuff. Or soup. But I had been warned that this could, in fact, be bitter. The Farmer’s market guy suggested that sautéing the leaves in olive oil and garlic was best. And, several online sources indicated that this was indeed a pretty tasty way to go.

The real dilemma was how best to disarm the plant. You have to separate the leaves from the stalks, which are woody. After donning my thickest plastic gloves, I blanched the entire plant, leaves, stalk and all, first in a huge pot of boiling water for maybe 30 to 60 seconds first, plunged it into cold water, and then carefully pulled the now wilted, and very mushy, leaves from the stems. The nettles were completely disarmed by this procedure, and could be handled with bare hands. I think, with very thick gloves, you could also pluck the leaves first and blanch them separately, or even sauté them unblanched, but this will have to wait for the next trial.

I removed as much water as possible from the blanched leaves with paper towels, sautéed them in olive oil with some onion and garlic, and turned them into a frittata. Stinging Nettle Frittata with Garlic and Parmesan. For , sponsored this week by Kalyn herself, of .

The frittata, once out of the oven, looked delicious. Sort of like a spinach frittata. Puffed, golden brown, with lots of bright green.

But no one was willing to take that first bite. Afraid the nettles were still there and would sting the tongue. Or maybe that the nettled leaves would themselves stick to the tongue. Embedding the leaves there forever by the little spikes. It makes me wonder who the first one was who decided these things could be eaten at all.

To my surprise, the flavor was the opposite of bitter. Almost sweet. With a floral sort of note to it. Clearly the blanching and cold water rinse had purged any trace of bitterness. The sweet flavor was not at all like spinach. Much fresher. With some wonderful garlic and parmesan flavors to add depth.

A lot of work, mainly because of the necessary blanching and leaf plucking steps. Especially for a Sunday morning. But the flavor was great. And, as of this writing, no one has succumbed to the effects of the plant, everyone still healthy, although not visibly more healthy than before eating the frittata.

So while everyone agreed the flavor was a winner, the jury is still out on the health aspects. As to the mental health aspects, well, all I can say is, if you are going to work with nettles, it helps to have a very thick skin!

Print Recipe

Stinging Nettle Frittata
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

2 large bunches of young stinging nettle
Olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
9 eggs
1 cup milk
salt, pepper
2 cups parmesan cheese, grated

In a very large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the nettles for 1 minute. Remove to a cold water bath. Remove from the cold water and drain well. Carefully strip the leaves from the stalks. Discard the stalks.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, milk, salt pepper and about 2/3s of the cheese.

Heat olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet. Sautee the onion over medium heat till softened. Add the garlic, and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the blanched nettle leaves, and sauté, stirring, for a few minutes. Pour the egg mixture over the top. Cover the skillet, and cook until bubbles form across the top of the egg mixture.

Sprinkle the frittata with the remaining grated cheese, and place under broiler until the top is puffed and well browned in places. Remove from broiler and serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Tell your family they better be nice to you. I bet there are a lot of women on the internet who would love to have you come and cook nettles for them. This is another new one for you! How do you do it?

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

You are an adventurous cook indeed. Fascinating post. Oh, and the fritatta looks delicious, too.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

I have a gazillion nettles around the the gardens. All the locals cook regularly with them in the spring, soups and teas, mainly. They also make an excellent organic insecticide. I've tried the insecticide but haven't gotten the courage to try them in the kitchen. Perhaps I will this spring. You give me courage!

12:43 PM  
Blogger Callipygia said...

I love nettles, at least my dried defanged ones, for tea. Your frittata look great and I am glad that you all survived tongues in tact.

4:15 PM  
Blogger neil said...

I looked on in complete disbelief as Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall entered a nettle eating competition. No blanching first, the contestants had to pick the leaves with their bare hands and eat then raw. Not for me I'm afraid.

12:35 PM  
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