All this cold rain has the nettles taking their sweet time, but in my spot, they’re up a little. They’re up enough, anyway, about three nodes or so, and I snip off the top two and slip them in my bag. Zephyr whines from his stroller, bored, and I’m a little afraid he’ll blow my cover so I hurry. I pick a bag of venomous verdancy and shuffle homeward down the muddy trail.
I stop to admire a trillium in bloom. Zephyr is not amused with this distraction (or my chipper insistence that it’s a dainty harbinger of spring), and hollers his protest. He throws his snack cup down the ravine, and I clamber down after it, less because I care about the cup, and more because I don’t want to leave any evidence that I’ve been there, stealing nettles.
A lot of trouble for a plant that’d sooner inject me with histamine and bitter malice than grant me any kind word, let alone a free meal. But persistence in urban foraging has its perks.
Case in point? This pie.
This easy pie (made even easier by laziness, by ready-made pastry dough, all rolled out) is worth picking nettles. It’s worth going gloveless, even. It’s worth the mud and the hurry, and it’s worth a climb down a slick ravine to a babbling creek bed to fetch a trifling object cast angrily aside by an impatient Zephyr.
And I’ll tell you what:
Fill a clean sink with cold water and swish your hard-gotten nettles around in there with tongs to get them as clean as you can muster. If you’re very fussy, you can do this a few times, but I think it’s fine after the first rinse. Blanch these clean nettles (oh, about a pound or so) in a pot of boiling water just until they flash bright green – like 10 seconds or thereabouts. Drain and shock in cold water to keep that virid flush. Drain again, spin in your salad-spinning device if you have one, and squeeze out the water that remains. If there a lot of big stems, you can pick the leaves off, otherwise just chop these puppies up finely.
In your food processor (or the like), combine a 1-pound tub of cottage cheese (I prefer the whole milk kind, but you could easily cut some corners here with a lower fat version), about a teaspoon of lemon zest (I used Meyer), about 10 or so scratches of fresh nutmeg, a little handful of grated Parm and some salt and pepper (I’ve been preserving lemons and used some of the lemony salt). Crack in an egg, and crumble the last half of your chunk of feta. Whiz this until it’s smooth and silky.
In a medium pan, heat up some butter and a little olive oil (or bacon fat, I implore you). Saute about a cup of chopped onion, a few cloves of smashed garlic and a handful of sliced mushrooms. When it starts to get translucent and aromatic, add a few pinches of dill and thyme. Turn off the heat, stir in the chopped nettles and stir in the cottage cheese “ricotta.” Pour this into your pie shell and top with a sprinkle of pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375° for about 45 minutes or until everything is set up.
Let it cool off for about 10 minutes (be strong!) while you fix a nice salad to go with. Pour a glass of fizzy Pinot Grigio, then pour another one to go with dinner.
Oh my goodness, is this ever a Thing. Best nettles ever.
Note: For more information on identifying and foraging nettles, check out this post I wrote for Culinate.