Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stinging Nettles: Yummy

What inspired this post was a recent culinary feature in New York Magazine. My first encounter with stinging nettles was in the year 2000. My son Dylan and I were canoeing upstream on a three mile stretch of Baltimore County's Western Run from Cockeysville, Maryland to where it flows under I-83. Enroute, we'd encountered a shallows around which we had to carry the canoe along the bank. Somewhere on that streamside, my bare legs were painfully brushed by stinging nettles' hairs bearing a painful arsenal of defensive chemicals. I had little reason to anticipate that such a plant was edible.

Yet, seven years later, New York Magazine was saying that cooking up such nettles would render them both harmless and delicious. Protecting myself with long pants and gloves, I'd have returned to Western Run right then to harvest some except for a flight scheduled the following day to visit my oldest son Alex and daughter-in-law Angela in San Francisco. My first night there, which was Friday, June 1, we dined at Cortez Restaurant in the Hotel Adagio in Union Square. On the menu was was ricotta ravioli with braised hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, English peas, stinging nettles, and parmesan froth. I ordered it and shot the image at right with my cell phone camera. The stinging nettles are the very dark green vegetable particularly present at top left and top right of the dish. The combination was delicious in a way that I suspect would appeal to quite a diverse range of tastebuds.

The following Saturday morning, as on all my visits, we visited the San Francisco Farmers Market at the Embarcadero and encountered stinging nettles again, this time freshly picked. In my excitement, I declined to ask the vendor whether she had grown them or gathered them from the wild. She was happy sell a small bag for 25 cents.

Back at Alex and Angela's apartment, I brought an inch or so of hot water to a boil in their asparagus steamer, donned rubber gloves, and removed any stems that seemed too thick. What remained were cooked within a couple minutes. I dumped them on a small plate and scattered just a bit of parmesan cheese over the top. They proved to be soft, tender, and delicious with a subtle and quite mild flavor reminiscent of spinach.