Today’s recipe might seem a bit out-of-season, and I have to acknowledge that the time where the tenderest and tastiest sprouts of nettle might be found is perhaps over for more than 2 months. But as nettle season actually runs till November and I still find nettles ubiquitous as soon as I step out of town, I allow myself to go off the rails for once because I can’t help sharing this lucky end-of-spring find, hoping you would at least keep it in mind till next spring.
Plus, let me suggest it would make a nice addition to summer potluck meals, and be fine even at the present time if you take care of using only the top leaves of nettle roots.
I actually only started foraging this year, pleasantly surprised to find out that some nature might have been preserved even in the near of the awful place where I live, which fortunately I’m about to leave now.
Nettle is not only one of the most easily accessible plants to forage, but also full of health benefits. Yet, as for any plant, nettle foraging should always be made with caution: especially, take care of avoiding those growing too close from the roads, obviously spoiled by bugs or a disease, and possibly reached by pets’ pee. Also, if you have any doubt on your harvest being nettles, DO NOT EAT.
Nettle looses of its itching effect once cut off the roots, but to avoid any unpleasant feeling when you’ll manipulate them, it’s recommended to soak them a little while in water added with vinegar, which also helps getting rid of the little bugs hidden under and at the base of the leaves.
All you need to do then is drain and separate the leaves from the stems as you would with any greens of the like, just wearing gloves in case you fear some residual itching effect (which anyway vanishes as nettles get cooked). Prepared this way, well dried nettle leaves keep 2-3 days in the vegetable compartment of your fridge.
I had little clue of how using nettles apart from the traditional French soupe aux orties. But I didn’t feel like eating a dish not only too hot for the sunny spring we had but also not underlining enough that delicate, green and fresh taste of nettles’.
So I threw a handful into an omelette, as I’m used to do with various greens and aromatics (more to come about this some day I promise !), which turned out even better than I had expected. Besides, I came up with this pie, remembering a Corsican wild green pie previously adapted with chards.
To draw it to the sunny side without losing the taste of nettles, I added a few dried tomatoes I had left on hand as well as some fine quality pecorino that my parents just brought back from Sicily at that time, which worked like a charm.
As for the pastry, I took inspiration from Asian cuisine, relying on a long practice of baozi pleating to make this giant dumpling of sorts. The dough could have been proofed, but I really wanted to keep it simple, preferring to use some whole rice flour I had leftover from another cooking experiment. The resulting pie is flavourful and satisfying, crunchy outside and melting inside, and would you have smelled it when pan-fried: it was delightful.
Pan-fried nettle pie with ewe cheese and dried tomatoes
- 100 gr wholemeal rice flour
- 125 gr all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp olive or sesame oil (not toasted)
- 100 gr (a little more is of course fine too) nettles, soaked in vinegary water, rinsed, drained, stems discarded
- 3-4 spring onions, chopped
- 3 dried tomatoes, rehydrated by soaking in cool water and diced
- a large handful of pecorino/mature ewe cheese, freshly grated
- salt and pepper to taste
Combine the two flours in a mixing bowl and add gradually a bit more than ½ cup of water (the amount may vary according to the flours used), eventually kneading the dough in order to make it soft and pliable. Work in the oil, roll the dough into a ball and set it aside for at least half an hour, covered with a clean cloth or cling film.
In the meantime, sweat the onions and nettles in a lightly oiled (or even dry) shallow pan over low heat till the leaves wilt and take on a deeper green color (about 10 mins). Let the greens cool down before tossing them with the diced rehydrated tomatoes and the pecorino. Stir in salt and pepper, mix well to distribute all ingredients evenly and set aside.
Roll out the dough, keeping in mind to leave it a tad thicker in the middle and looking for an overall thickness of 2 to 4 millimeters. Spread the filling onto the center of the pastry, trying to leave a 2-inch large free border all around. Use it to enclose the filling by pleating and pinching the pastry to gradually seal it up, either in the form of a bag or that of a crescent if it seems easier to you. Flatten it lightly with the rolling pin.
Carefully transfer the pie to a large frying pan preheated over low heat without fat and cook it on each side till golden brown and so that the borders are cooked through too (total cooking time of 15-20mns).
Cut into parts to serve, and enjoy !
The pie would keep a few days in the fridge. To reheat, use a pan covered with a lid or chuck the pie wrapped in aluminum foil into the oven to keep it from drying out.