Stinging Nettle Risotto
May is the perfect time of year for picking nettles, they are nice and fresh and the new leaves have a mild peppery flavour, whereas later in the year the taste can get a bit overpowering (they are best picked when below knee-length in height).
Picking nettles is a great way for urbanites to start foraging easily as they are easy to identify, we all know them from stings we have gotten as children and grow on pretty much any waste ground, around towns and cities, or in your back garden.
Rubber gloves and long trousers are advisable if you are going to attempt nettle picking; the leaves contain histamines which can cause a strong stinging sensation and skin rash. Also, remember the wonderful doc leaf, more of a help than a cure, but can calm the reaction. It’s nice to remember nature’s way as they usually grow side by side.
I first picked nettles with a lovely chef that worked in our family hotel when I was about 11, I thought it was just the most enchanting thing and loved the soup he made with its strange piquant flavour for novelty as much as anything else.
Nettles were a wonderful thing to discover at that age, it really did give me an interest in finding other wild food to eat and it has been a passion of mine ever since. To cook with the ingredients that grow around you brings something very special to the table.
Foraging for nettles is a fantastic experience for children because they love a sense of adventure; a sort of mission, it’s always an experience to remember.
When I hear my children quietly, but proudly telling their friends that you can eat a certain flower or plant, or the look on their faces when they taste a leaf of wood sorrel, trying to place its bitter sweet flavour, it makes me smile.
Admittedly the kids prefer the picking to eating this bright green risotto, but we are working on that one and I think that giving them a sense of our indigenous wild foods is the most important lesson for now.
Sometimes just the flavour of the stock, which the nettles have been cooked in, is enough for them and I give them the plain risotto and keep the super green charged risotto for myself.
Nettles are very rich in iron and are good for clearing the blood. Make this for the novelty factor as well as its delicious flavour and perhaps a little sense of adventure and curiosity.
1 medium onion
2 cloves of Garlic
400g Risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli rice)
A knob of Butter
4 large handfuls of nettle leaves removed from the stalk (using rubber gloves)
1- 1 ½ litres Chicken/vegetable stock
200g Parmesan freshly grated
Method (this should take roughly 20-25 minutes)
- When the onions and garlic are soft turn heat to medium, add the rice, and mix around in the oil for one minute. This coats the rice and allows the rice to soak up liquid less quickly, which is what we need for risotto.
- Add a little salt and pepper. A small amount of salt at this stage does a lot to bring out the flavor meaning less salt is required overall.
- On a low heat, sweat the onion and garlic gently.
- Warm a little olive oil in a wide bottomed saucepan.
- Keep the stock on a low heat.
- Put the nettles leaves into the stock, allow it to come back to the boil and remove the nettles with a slotted spoon to a blender and blitz with a knob of butter, salt and pepper.
- Bring the stock to a gentle simmer
- Start adding the hot stock ladle by ladle. Allow each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring a lot. As well as stopping the rice from sticking the stirring helps the creaminess come out in the rice. Therefore the more you stir the creamier the risotto will be.
- Keep stirring until 2/3 of the liquid has been absorbed and there is a slight bite still to the rice.
- Add the nettles purée
- After one or two more ladles add the rest of the butter and ½ the Parmesan.
- Stir well, put a lid on the pot and leave off the heat for 5 minutes or so. During this time the flavours will mix with the rice, the butter and Parmesan will give it a silky texture and the rice will be perfect.
- Remove the lid; the risotto might need a little more stock or hot water at this point to get the consistency right. It should be nice and oozy. It should have movement and should not be sticky. You should be just about able to pour it out of the pot.
- Serve with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.