There are some things that I’m scared of cooking because they seem too technically difficult. Like meringue, hard candy and anything else where you have to get the temperature exactly right. And then there are other things I am scared of cooking because they are just plain scary. Things that can actually hurt you. Things like sea urchins, live lobsters and nettles.
I’ve actually gotten over my fear of spiny and/or pinching crustaceans, but stinging nettles have stayed off my kitchen counter. Until last week.
I’ve always been very tempted by them. I’m an avid reader of blogs like Hank Shaw’s Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, and was particularly drawn to his recipe for nettle pesto. I even considered picking the nettles that are currently growing outside my office door, in between the cobblestones (does that count as foraging?). But the thought of being stung was just too much (that and the fact that they are probably covered in dog pee).
But last weekend, at the Farmers’ Market in Testaccio, curiosity overcame fear when I saw a big crate of nettles that were fresh, cheap and plentiful (and – I’m assuming – not covered in dog pee.) After I asked for a kilo, the vendor reached under the cash register and pulled out a pair of plastic gloves. He then carefully picked up handfuls, stuffing them into a bag, which he tightly knotted shut.
He told me to pull off each leaf from the stem, and gently wash them. While wearing gloves of course. And then he gave me the standard recipe I always seem to get when buying some un-common green: make a frittata.
Although I’m usually more creative, I thought that since I was a nettle newbie, sticking to an easy frittata recipe might be a good idea.
I also had a dozen, farm-fresh, dirt-encrusted (okay, they were poop-encrusted) eggs from Giovanni Bernabei, as well as some beautiful, yellow, saffron-flecked cheese from Aquila. A frittata seemed like fate.
The frittata turned out deliciously. The nettles, wilted down and cooked with onions, were just about the greenest thing I’ve ever tasted, with a slightly earthy, almost swampy, taste that was very addictive. And even if the saffron flavoring in the cheese was lost, the cheese itself was just sharp enough and gave the perfect amount of creaminess.
Did I get stung? Yes. But only once. My hands were very well protected by my gloves, but those branches of nettles were a bit unwieldy and one flopped over and got me on the arm. But I survived. I am ok. And will definitely be buying more nettles each week as long as they last.
Frittata di Ortiche
A big bunch of Stinging Nettles (Ortica)
1 large onion
3/4 cup soft pecorino, cut in small cubes
1 Tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
Remember: nettles bite! Put on a pair of rubber gloves, and carefully pull off the leaves from the stem of the nettles. Rinse and dry.
Chop onion and place in frying pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gently cook until softened.
Add the cleaned nettles and a bit of water and salt. Stir and cover. Cook until quite tender, adding more water if necessary. Depending on whether or not the leaves are big, this can take anywhere from 8 to 25 minutes. Taste once it is wilted (and don’t worry, once cooked, they don’t sting anymore)
When cooked let all the water evaporate. Let cool a bit and then add to a bowl with eggs and cheese. Stir to mix.
Add the other tablespoon oil to the same frying pan, and pour the contents of the bowl back in, spreading it out evenly. Place lid on the pan and cook gently until cooked through.