Like most edibles that grow, we are most enthusiastic when they first arrive. One minute we’re scrabbling around searching for the baby plants, the next there is a veritable jungle standing three feet high.
They are a bonus in the kitchen but a curse for gardeners. In my case it’s a perk to be able to use something so pesky. Young nettles are tasty and tender. The part of the plant that needs to be picked is the tip – a bit like picking tea. If you are careful they won’t sting you, but if you’re in a hurry or in doubt, wear a pair of gloves. Either way, use scissors to snip the tips from the plants.
Nettles are a specialty of the Northern hemisphere, they don’t grow in Australia nor anywhere that isn’t fertile and wet, which rules out quite a lot of the world. Their prolific growth in Ireland proves they are very happy in this climate. If you have a nettle patch that bugs you or is getting out of control just keep cutting it back and it’ll eventually get exhausted and give up.
Before you do that, and whilst they are young and tender, you might enjoy this month’s recipe. Each year we seem to have some kind of nettle culinary craze. We’ve made pestos, herby Greek pies, smoothies and soups and this year we’re on nettle and herb frittata with local buffalo ricotta cheese. I put in fennel weed, parsley and chives, which are growing in our garden. Use whatever herbs you can get your hands on, soft green ones are best — parsley, chervil, basil, mint or chives…Wild garlic would be good too if you could make it down to the woods.
Nettle, Herb and Ricotta Frittata
25mls olive oil
1litre of young nettle tips
a big handful of any herbs – fennel, parsley, basil, chives etc
150g buffalo ricotta
salt and pepper
Peel and chop the onion. Heat a small non-stick pan and add enough olive oil to barely cover the bottom and then add the chopped onion. Turn the heat to medium and gently cook the onion until it softens. Season with a little salt. Stir in the nettles, keep the heat on medium and cook gently until the nettles wilt and soften.
Chop any green herbs that you are using.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, season with a little salt and pepper whisk them to mix then stir in the chopped herbs and wilted nettles. Break the ricotta into clumps and gently stir in, don’t over mix, you need a little lumpiness.
Put the pan back on the heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. When the pan is hot, pour in the nettle and egg mix, then turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook gently for three to four minutes. The frittata should be setting. Put the grill on hot and pop the frittata under to finish. Don’t leave it to go too golden, just a little. It’s better a little soft than overdone, as it’ll continue cooking off the heat the heat.
Spring has galloped away for us and we’re getting busy in the garden.
There are a few more cooking classes before the summer. (The Fish class (April 23), The Italian class (May 7) and Salads, Herbs, Summer Food (May 28) — after that we’ll be in the garden.
Here’s hoping for sunshine