Thursday was the opening day of the Washington, D.C., Penn Quarter farmers’ market. Was eager to see what fruits and vegetables would be making their spring debut, so I scooted out of work a few minutes early, jumped on the metro, and headed downtown. Still a bit early in the season for many of my favorites (ramps, garlic scapes, peas, fava beans, morels); however, there were a few surprises.
Stinging nettle, to some pesty weeds (along with the likes of dandelion greens, purslane, lamb’s quarters, etc.), to others edible and satisfying greens. As the name implies, stinging nettle leaves and stems have tiny hairs (called trichomes) that will sting you upon contact. So be careful handling these greens and don’t eat them raw (not that they are poisonous, but rather they may be a bit unpleasant). However, just a few minutes of blanching neutralizes the sting and renders them completely edible. Nettles are rather mild in flavor, similar in taste to spinach. They can be used in just about any dish that calls for greens (alone or in combination) — nettle soup, risotto, pesto, and ravioli to name a few — or enjoy on their own, simply sauteed with a olive oil and garlic.
After chatting with the farmer from whom I bought the stinging nettle (along with wild watercress and flowering mustard greens) about ways to prepare these somewhat unfamiliar greens, I ultimately decided a simple pesto would be an easy (and tasty) way to highlight their flavor. Of course, I couldn’t just stop at pesto, and immediately began to think about ways to use the nettle pesto. This time, shirred eggs (i.e., eggs with a splash of heavy cream). My new favorite way to prepare eggs — extremely creamy and luscious. Next time maybe nettle pesto and pizza or pasta, or….just came across a recipe for green nettle curry, now that sounds interesting.
Stinging nettle grows wild, so you can forage for them (along with other “weeds”), in which case they are not only tasty, but extremely economical.
Stinging Nettle Pesto
2 bunches stinging nettles (7.5 ounces); ~2 cups blanched
1/4 cup walnuts
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Squeeze of lemon
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the nettles and cook about 1 to 2 minutes. Place in a cold water bath. Drain and squeeze out any excess water. Remove the larger stems (they may be a bit woody), and chop the leaves and smaller stems. Set aside.
Toast the walnuts on a dry skillet over low heat, until lightly browned and aromatic.
Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until broken down into smaller pieces. Add the nettles, garlic, and Parmesan. With the motor running, slowly add the oil, until well combined. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
Shirred Eggs with Nettle Pesto
2 individual (4-6 ounce) ramekins or 1 large ramekin (as pictured)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Nettle pesto (or your favorite pesto)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Lightly butter or oil the ramekins. Crack 2 eggs into each individual ramekin or 4 eggs if using one large ramekin. Add 1 tablespoon of cream to each individual ramekin or 2 tablespoons if using one large ramekin. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake until whites are set and opaque but yolks are still runny, about 17 to 20 minutes. Spoon a tablespoon or two of the pesto over each, along with a dash of coarse sea salt. Serve immediately.