Thursday, June 26, 2008

Veggie Might: Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon (Stinging Nettles - Ouch! Mmm!)

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Interjections (Hey!) show excitement (Yow!) or emotion (Ouch!).They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.

My first trip to the CSA meeting place had me buzzing with feelings: curiosity (How does this thing work exactly? Will I meet the farmers?!), excitement (Sorrel, dandelion greens, and grape leaves! Oh my!), and anxiety (Ugh! My nemesis [Yes, even I, dear reader, have a nemesis.] might be there.).

I fastened the basket to my handlebars and zipped down to the designated street on my bike. About halfway down the block, I saw a truck with a “Support Your Local Farmer” banner draped across the open back. Several tents on the sidewalk protected vendors and their goods from the midmorning sun. My nemesis was nowhere to be seen.

The coordinator, Erica, greeted me and, as I signed the register, I scanned the roll for the evil one’s name. Not there! A season of delicious, drama-free veggies are mine!

Erica explained that I could choose four items, plus one extra, from the six or seven available this week, and good thing I brought my own bag because her helper was “evil and didn’t bring any.” She has a nemesis, too, it seems. She also directed me to recipes for the more unusual vegetables.

After being reassured that the take gets more bountiful later in the season, I began to fill my bag with dandelion greens, grape leaves, sorrel, a bouquet of wildflowers, and stinging nettles. While I gathered, Erica reminded me three more times to take The Recipes, though I took them the first time.

Stinging nettles were the “extra” item of which we could have as much as we wanted. There were two boxes: one of fresh nettles and one of nettles starting to wilt and dry. Erica explained that the dried version makes a great tea for sinus problems and allergies. Sign me up.

I took some of both, reaching in to discover that stinging nettles…sting. The stems are covered with tiny hairs that prick and emit venom. Erica then pointed to the tongs and shared an anecdote about medieval torturers lashing prisoners with stinging nettles. Delightful! I was pulling little prickers out of my fingers for the rest of the day.

Home with my bounty I wondered what in the world I would do with sorrel and stinging nettles. The nettles hurt my fingers and I was only given an ounce of sorrel. At the bottom of the bag lay my savior: The Recipes. There were also instructions on how to handle the stinging nettles.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon from The Reluctant Gourmet had it all. Erica had pulled it off the Web and the accompanying blog post gave a brief history of the plant. Once I inspected the ingredients list versus my pantry, I made several modifications (1/2 cup of olive oil? Yeesh!), but the spirit of the recipe remains intact. In essence, it’s nettle pesto with sorrel as garnish.

Because I only took small bunch of fresh nettles, I started to half the recipe—it called for 1/4 pound of nettles and I only had 1/8—but once I’d made the sauce, I found it plenty to cover 8 ounces of pasta. The original recipe also called for ricotta cheese and walnuts for which I subbed parmesan and pine nuts.

It turned out to be quite delicious, though I’m at a loss as to describe the flavors. Is green a flavor? It is now! The lemon zest really came through, and the mint and parsley gave it a fresh flavor. If you ever come across stinging nettles or sorrel, don’t be shy. And let me know; I’ll send you The Recipes.

Pasta with Nettles, Sorrel, and Lemon
Approximately 4 servings
Adapted from The Reluctant Gourmet.

1/8 pound fresh stinging nettles, stems and all
8 ounces pasta
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan
1/2 lemon for zest and juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parley, chopped
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 oz. fresh sorrel leaves, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
1 oz toasted pine nuts

1) Get out two large pots of water. Fill them with water. Add salt. Bring to a boil.

2) Carefully add nettles to Pot #1. Stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Very carefully, use tongs to place them in a colander. Drain. [I suggest using tongs when handling the nettles. I wore vinyl gloves surgical gloves (which I keep around for cleaning and chopping hot peppers) and then little stingers still poked through. - Leigh] Dirt should be gone/all left in the water.

3) In Pot #2, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, making sure to reserve a cup of pasta water. Set pasta and water aside.

4) While pasta is boiling, "press most of the water out of the nettles and remove the leaves from the stems." Place in food processor. Puree. (At this stage, the sting will have mostly dissipated, so gloves will suffice for leaf removal. - Leigh) Slowly add olive oil while this is happening. Once smooth, stop processor and add parmesan, zest, juice, and herbs. Pulse until blended. Salt and pepper to taste.

5) Put pasta back in its pot. Add nettle pesto. Stir. Add sorrel and a little pasta water, until sauce reaches the consistency you like.

7) Top with or stir in pine nuts. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
292 calories, 10.4g fat, $1.43 per serving

1/8 pound fresh stinging nettles: 6 calories, .1g fat, $2.30*
8 ounces whole wheat pasta: 720 calories, 8g fat, $1.00
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: 240 calories, 28g fat, $0.16
1 tbsp parmesan: 21 calories, 1.4g fat, $0.37
1/2 lemon for zest and juice: 4 calories, 0g fat, $0.02
1 tablespoon fresh mint: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 tablespoon fresh parsley: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 tablespoon chives: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1 oz. fresh sorrel leaves: 2.5 calories, .1g fat, $1.25*
1 oz toasted pine nuts: 60 calories, 6g fat, $0.37
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 tsp pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTALS: 1168.5 calories, 41.6g fat, $5.72
PER SERVING: 292 calories, 10.4g fat, $1.43 per serving

*Approximate cost based on size of portion divided by number of items in week’s share divided by total cost of week’s share. These will get much cheaper as the summer goes on.

Author’s note: Rest in peace, sweet Dody Goodman, fellow central Ohioan, and funny, funny lady. I’ll never misspell your name again.

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Amphritrite said...

I don't think we have any CSAs here, unfortunately. I wish we did! It would be interesting to try nettle soup ;) Haha.

Ashley said...

amphritrite - is a listing of all CSAs across the country, you'd be suprised where you can find them. My CSA doesn't work quite the same way, I show up each week and they give me a prepacked box of fruits and veggies, and thankfully I haven't gotten any stinging nettles yet. I thought it was a challege to decide what to do with 6 weeks of squash/zucchini...

Shaina said...

I was riding my bike home a couple months ago when a strange gentleman invited me to come with him to "Nettle Fest" - an annual festival devoted to cooking with nettles. Dude. They are the most delicious things ever. My favorites were dandelion nettle biscuits, nettle quiche and deviled eggs with nettles. I was floored. Nettle jello, also, a thing that must be experienced to be believed.

Jenn @ Frugal Upstate said...

I just wanted to comment so that you would know that SOMEONE got your obscure Schoolhouse Rock reference. That was always one of my favorite :)

Laura said...

Just a warning...Some people are highly allergic to Nettles. I was taking Nettle for seasonal allergies and wound up in the ER swollen everywhere and having trouble breathing...But everyone is different.