We are so fortunate in Seattle to have a wonderful array of urban parks, where just a jaunt across town can immerse you into a natural setting that makes you feel a million miles away from the city. With the tip off of a friend, we found ourselves at one of these parks on a beautiful Spring day, foraging for Nettles.
I recently acquired the book Hunt Gather Cook by Hank Shaw and it has opened up a world of foraged edibles that I am eager to try. The one disappointment of this book is that it does not aid in identifying the actual plant. Thankfully, we have a wonderfully knowledgeable friend who forages regularly and was able to help us identify them. We probably could have rolled up our pant legs and taken a jaunt through the forest and very quickly identified them from the sting, yow-za! To make quick work we headed off trail to avoid and animal and people contamination and found a HUGE patch!
I had garden gloves on but if you choose to forage for nettles I would definitely recommend some longer rubber kitchen gloves and save your wrists from hours of sting! We simply snipped the top 6-8″ of the plants off with scissors ( don’t bother with the lower brown woody part). Nettles are tastier when they are harvested from smaller plants 6-8″ tall. Apparently the patch of nettles that we mowed down will quickly grow back, so we could return in a few weeks for round two! We each stuffed a bag full and returned home to start processing and making a tasty dinner.
In order to remove the sting (which is created by formic acid, just like the bite of a fire ant!) you blanche the plants in salty-like-the-sea hot water for 1-4 minutes. I washed the greens in the sink first, to remove any forest dirt or critters and into the pot they went!. Once we were done blanching them we squeezed the excess moisture out of them in towels. I vacuum packed and froze a lot of it for later use however for dinner we made nettle and goat cheese ravioli, roasted brussel sprouts with nettle butter and as an extra added bonus we found wood sorrel and made a salad with it! Ah Pacific Northwest, you truly inspire me! The wood sorrel was a wonderful surprise! We found a huge patch delicately lit up by sunshine. It was so pretty I wanted to roll around in it but we tasted the delicate leaves and knew we needed to pick plenty to take home for a salad. If you have never tried Wood Sorrel, it has a zingy citrus taste that was perfectly highlighted with our salad greens.
I will say the highlight of the Nettle experiment has been a very simple Creme of Nettle Soup. I love making soups with what I have on hand and this was calling out to be made!
Creme of Nettle Soup
2 large white onions
6-8 fresh cloves of garlic, diced
3-4 cups cooked nettles
2 cups reserved nettle “tea”
2 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cup half and half
4-5 white button mushrooms
salt and white pepper to taste
I sauteed the chopped onions and garlic with some olive oil until just transcluscent, then added 2 tbsp of nettle butter and blanched nettles. I then added nettle tea, and stock. Start to season to taste, remember that you blanched the nettles in super salty water so tread carefully at first! Once this was up to temp, I transfered it in batches to the cuisineart, where I slowly added the creme. In another pot I sauteed mushrooms and as the creme mixture was processed, I added this to the mushrooms. Once all the creme and stock had been mixed and processed, I brought the pot up to simmer and let it ride out, being sure to not let it get too hot. Meanwhile, I made some fun little parmesan crisps in the oven for on top. This soup did not take long at all and it was super rewarding to know we had created it from a beautiful afternoon of urban foraging! I am looking forward to all the other edibles we will harvest from City Parks this year.
PS- for the record it is ILLEGAL to forage from City Parks in Seattle. Forage at your own risk. Myself……Breakin the law, breakin the law!!