With regards to many seasonal fruits and vegetables, my job is fairly easy - It doesn't take much to get someone to switch to locally-grown strawberries and peaches - the intoxicating smells and incomparable flavor of farm-fresh fruit will convert anyone into a farmers market groupie. Even things that used to be considered out of the ordinary to the saaviest of shoppers - giant king oyster mushrooms, garlic scapes, and ramps - are now standard fare that most people know how to tackle.
Stinging nettles, on the other hand, are another story.
I woke up early to arrive before the first opening bell of the farmers market season - so many familiar faces, smiling kids with pastries bigger than their heads, hugs from market friends who seemed to be asking one all-encompassing question - "How was your winter?" We've all (barely) made it through the months without our weekly market bags filled with the harvest and our mouths filled with breakfast burrito, but the underlying celebration was evident everywhere - spring is here, and we're back in business!
I made my usual rounds, snapping shots of cute kids and all the photogenic produce you could ask for this early in the season. It was quite a turnout - plenty of greens and garden starts, gorgeous bouquets, and some new stars - including the nefarious nettle.
The small bags of nettles offered at a few stands seemed like perfect little gifts, each wrapped in an opaque bag, and at $2-3 bucks a bag, a seeming steal. Until you pick one up and the farmers cast knowing smirks as they ring you up and hand you a piece of paper with cautionary instructions. Yep, these babies come with warning labels.
I also scored some beautiful baby garlic greens that look and smell a bit like scallions with a purple cast. I picked out some beets, sunchokes, a peppermint start, and a big bag of pears to last me through the week. My score of the week was a salad bowl - a big round pot filled with tons of baby lettuces, bok choy, and spinach, a perfect mini-garden that cost less than a bag of gourmet greens - and it'll pay for itself over and over, I'm sure. It's such a good idea, I'm going to have to create a few more myself.
Here's the lovely Joan from Rainyway Farm with my Salad Bowl!
It was a beautiful morning, the sun poked out a couple times, and bluegrass music floated through the air, punctuated by sizzling sausage and bursts of laughter.
I came home with my bounty and got to work prepping the nettles, as I didn't want to leave them in the fridge where someone might get an unpleasant surprise. When handling nettles, you want to wear gloves - I used the thick kind we have on hand for dishes - and rinse well as you separate the tender leaves from the thick stems. I was probably a bit more paranoid than I needed to be, but these guys looked frightening, and I still felt a few stings through the gloves. After they are rinsed, you'll want to handle the nettles with tongs - trust me, you don't want to touch them.
I can remember being a kid in Oregon campgrounds in the summer, playing barefoot in the playgrounds and walking back to the tent with my older sister, and then - ouch - my foot landed in the middle of a nettle patch. I had a habit of stepping on things I shouldn't have - nests of red ants included - but this was a killer. It's funny to think the nettled I bought at the market today were probably harvested not too far from those campgrounds. So it was time for revenge.
While the nettles waited in a bowl by the window, looking mighty threatening, I chopped up some shallots, garlic, and the baby garlic greens, and sauteed them in butter and olive oil - never a bad start. After letting this smell fantastic for a while, I added a bit of dry sherry and the nettle tops and leaves. A quart of water, some salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of parsley, and I left it to boil off the danger for about ten minutes. Most recipes call for five minutes of boiling, but again, I was paranoid.
After the nettles seemed safe, I added a handful of baby spinach from my mini salad garden and a cup of good greek yogurt. A bit of a whir with the immersion blender, and... it smelled FANTASTIC, but looked not unlike swamp sludge. I know. I shouldn't say swamp sludge in a food blog. But it's true. As I was stirring, and tasting, and mmmmming, I couldn't help but laugh. My roommates wont touch it, partly because I scared them with warnings of imminent kitchen danger and partly because the immersion blender caused the soup to foam a bit, which did not help the situation aesthetically. In further appraisal, however, I'm really glad they won't be fighting over mugs of this stuff. I'll just let them think it's dangerous, because it's so good, I don't want to share.
Look out for more local finds from today's market this week, stay safe in the kitchen, and eat well!
Oakley's Creamy Stinging Nettle Soup with Baby Garlic Greens
* 3 Tablespoons butter or olive oil, I use a mix
* 2 shallots, minced
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 cup chopped baby garlic greens or scallions
* 1/4 cup dry sherry
* 1/2 pound wild nettle tops
* 1 quart water or broth
* Salt and Pepper
* 1 cup greek yogurt, crème fraiche, sweet cream, or half and half
* 2 Tablesoons fresh parsley
* 1 handful fresh baby spinach
1. Sauté shallots, garlic, and garlic greens in butter or olive oil. Add sherry and nettles.
2. Add water and bring to a boil.
3. Cover and simmer until the nettles are very soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add spinach.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste, add yogurt or cream, and puree using an immersion blender.
5. Add fresh parsley and serve with more yogurt and chopped garlic greens.