Friday, February 5, 2010
"Ouch, something bit me!" I said to my mother. "Nettles, yes, stinging nettles!" she said as we walked near the stream at my grandparent's farm in the food hills of the Berkshires.
I was scared to death. I was just a kid and I didn't want to get stung. I hated bees. What was a nettle anyway? I couldn't imagine. Was it an insect or an animal? Could it be a plant? I'll tell you... From then on, I walked close to my mother's side whenever we walked near that stream.
Years later, when I was cooking at Chez Panisse, it was springtime and nettle pizza was on the menu. There was that word again. Nettles! I couldn't help but flashback on that walk I took with my mother so many years before. Obviously, knowing that we were serving nettles at Chez Panisse, made me realize they had to be safe. And yes, when I saw them, I realized they were a plant.
Right now is the time of year when young, tender nettles come into season here in the Bay Area. You may have to either forage for them yourself or find them at your local farmer's market because you're definitely not going to find them at your local Whole Foods. I usually get them at Star Route Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market or in my CSA box.
You'll laugh... I was so stupid the first time I worked with them at home. I didn't use gloves and my hands were itchy and almost numb afterwards. What happens is the leaves and stems are very hairy and those little hairs have tips on them that come off when you touch them. This kind of transforms the hairs into little needles that injects chemicals into your skin that cause a stinging sensation or itching. Usually it lasts for only a few minutes but I've heard people say it lasts much longer. Want to avoid the pain? Wear latex gloves!
Here's a fantastic recipe for risotto with nettles. People always ask me, "What do nettles taste like?" All I can say is GREEN! Really GREEN. I just love the fresh flavor and they're so good for you!
By the way, last time I made this risotto for friends from Paris, I served an Albarino, a crisp, dry white wine from Galicia in Spain. It was a fantastic combination. I would imagine an herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc or Soave Classico would work equally as well.
RISOTTO WITH NETTLES
6 ounces nettles, stems removed
2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 cup arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
3/4 cup dry white wine, preferable Sauvignon Blanc
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
To remove the stems from the nettles, be sure to use latex gloves.
Place the chicken stock and water in a sauce pan and heat until it is hot but not boiling. Reduce the heat to low and maintain the heat just below a simmer. Place a ladle in the pan.
Warm the olive oil in a large heavy casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 10 minutes. Add the rice and nettles and stir for 2 to 3 minutes to toast the rice and coat with oil.
Add the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine has reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a few ladlefuls of stock to the rice and stir to wipe the rice away from the sides and the bottom of the pot. Continue to stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add another ladleful of stock and continue to stir until the liquid has been almost absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir in the same manner until the rice is no longer chalky, 20 to 25 minutes total, depending upon the variety of rice. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and add another ladleful of stock, the butter and the half of Parmigiano. Cover the pan and let sit covered off the heat for 5 minutes.
Remove the cover and stir. Place the risotto in a bowl and serve immediately. Pass a bowl of Parmigiano alongside