Nettles are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. They are super-high in Vitamin C and minerals. They also have diuretic properties, so they are considered a good tonic or cleansing green. In other words, this is a super-health food that comes just when we most crave something fresh after a winter of canned and preserved foods.
But they Sting!
That’s right. Nettles have very fine hairs that irritate the skin and cause a burning or stinging sensation. So wear gloves when you pick them. Fill the sink with cold water and swish the nettles around to remove dirt. Once you’ve rinsed them, they will no longer sting and are safe to handle without gloves.
You can pick nettles all summer long, but the young new plants that come up first thing in the spring are the best. They tend to get woodier and stringier the older they get. You can still pick and dry the leaves from older plants and use the dried leaves in a tea
(which has lots of health benefits, like lowering blood pressure.)
If you like spinach…
If you like spinach (or other greens), try substituting nettles. In fact, this recipe is almost identical to my recipe from Creamed Parmesan Swiss Chard (or spinach.) Cooked nettles can taste a little flat, so instead of nutmeg to balance the cream, I add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice. It just brightens up and intensifies the flavors.
1/2 lb nettles (about 8-10 cups)
1 Tsbp butter
2 tsp flour
1 1/2 C cream
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp each: pepper, garlic powder and onion powder
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375°.
Wash nettles and remove stems. Chop or shred the leaves.
Put the nettles in a 9 X 9 glass baking dish or shallow casserole dish.
Melt butter in a small saucepan and add flour to make a roux. Stir for a minute, just until the flour
starts to be lightly browned. Add cream, salt and spices and stir until thoroughly mixed. Remove from heat before it starts to boil. Add the lemon juice when you take the cream sauce off the heat.
Pour the cream sauce over the nettles. Use a fork to stir everything around so that the leaves are thoroughly and evenly coated with sauce.
Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling in the middle of the dish.
Remove the foil and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly on top. Return to the oven and bake another 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and a tiny bit crusty.
I prefer heavy cream but you can use half and half if you like. Sometimes I’ve found myself a bit short on cream and have substituted a portion of the cream with sour cream and a bit of milk to get the liquidy texture of the original sauce. It works great and tastes great as well.