Remember when I couldn’t stop babbling about how awesome spring greens are?
Well, I’m excited about them all over again. Just a few days ago on a visit to Northampton, MA with my mom, I had the opportunity to pick up a bunch of nettles at the local Tuesday afternoon farmer’s market.
Yep, nettles. As in, stinging nettles.
I find it crazy awesome that it’s possible to eat a plant that can give you a nasty rash if you bump into it in the wild. As I’m fond of saying, God knew what He was doing when He created the world, and nettles are a neat example of that. However, you do have to know what you’re doing when you prepare them or you’ll get an unpleasant surprise. After a bad experience with undercooked fiddleheads, I wanted to make sure that I did the nettles up right. Thanks to the power of Google, I discovered that all you need to do to get rid of the sting is blanch them.
That’s right, just about 30 seconds in a pot of boiling water, and boom. No more sting (and the added bonus of clearing out any critters that might still be hanging around in the leaves). Wear gloves or use tongs when putting the nettles in the water! I made the mistake of touching them without any protection and wound up with some funky tingling in my hand for quite a while.
Once you’ve zapped the sting, you can use nettles for pretty much anything and get a whole bunch of nutrients out of whatever you make. Just one cup of cooked nettles contains:
- 6 grams of fiber
- 42% DV of calcium
- 35% DV of vitamin A
- 12% DV magnesium
along with iron, potassium, vitamin B6 and even a couple grams of protein. And as with all leafy greens, there’s a good dose of antioxidant phytonutrients in there, too.
Honestly, I wasn’t thinking of the health benefits when I bought nettles–I just wanted to try them! I had visions of pasta and greens and wound up noodling (pun intended) with the recipe for Penne with Broccoli Rabe from Forks Over Knives – The Cookbookuntil I had Lemon Nettle Chickpea Pasta.
It’s a pretty straightforward dish with simple ingredients: garlic and nettles, chickpeas, nutritional yeast, whole grain penne and just a bit of seasoning, all mixed together and drizzled with fresh lemon juice. I found it took around half an hour to make, including blanching time for the nettles.
And boy were they good! The flavor is a bit like spinach, only lighter and greener without tasty bitter or grassy. I chopped up all the stems along with the leaves and found them to be a little tough, so I’d suggest trimming off the ends if you’re not a fan of that sort of texture.
It’s a nice dish to enjoy on a spring or summer evening when you’re looking for something quick and light. Spinach works just as well if you can’t get your hands on nettles, but you’ll be missing out on the opportunity to put some variety in your diet–and perhaps discover a new favorite green! I know I’m a fan of nettles now and will be keeping an eye out for them whenever they’re in season.
- 8oz. whole wheat or gluten-free penne
- 10-12oz. fresh nettles
- 6 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 15.5oz can, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast.
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the nettles (with tongs or a gloved hand!) and blanch for 30 seconds to 1 minute to neutralize the sting. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Wash the blanching pot, fill it back up with water and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Place the garlic in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute until fragrant and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the blanched nettles, basil and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes more, until the kitchen starts to smell like herbs. Stir in the chickpeas and nutritional yeast and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet along with the lemon juice and more pepper, if desired. Cook until everything is heated through and well combined. Serve hot.
Do you already cook with nettles? What’s your favorite dish to make with them? Share in the comments!