This time of year, the woods are full of foragers who are seeking the best the season has to offer—fiddlehead ferns, ramps, morels and—of course—stinging nettles. Saddled with the least appetizing name possible, they manage to rise above and deliver a bright green goodbye to winter and hello to spring with every biteful.
Montreal chef Nancy Hinton told the Globe and Mail, “Its taste is subtle–like spinach–but soft and mineral. [It] brings green, body, depth.” For the same article, Whistler, British Columbia chef Paul Moran described the flavor as “very similar to kale, with a slightly minty aftertaste.” Alan Bergo, the Forager Chef, says “stinging nettles almost have a saline/ocean quality to them, especially if they’re pureed.”
How to prepare
Be careful. The tiny, stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves can be incredibly painful, so wear gloves when you’re handling them, until the leaves are cooked. You must soak or boil nettles, or cook them in other liquids, to remove the stinging chemicals. Bergo suggests removing the stingers from nettles by soaking them in water overnight, or blanching them in boiling, salted water, then moving to an ice bath.
On the menu
Freshly foraged wild nettles are popping up on seasonal menus in everything from pasta and pizza to soup and pesto. At Vancouver’s “sustainable dining” restaurant Forage, chef Chris Whittaker serves up an herb and brown butter gnocchi with stinging nettle. Green Bay Wisconsin’s Hinterland Restaurant and Brewery serves stinging nettle and parmesan malfatti, which are dumplings, similar to gnocchi, whose name literally means “badly made.” The Forager Chef serves them in a number of ways, including wilted with butter, in soups and purees, as a mix-in for warm grains, creamed or dried and used as tea leaves.