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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way.
Stinging nettles are one of the most nutrient-dense plants available -- and if you live anywhere outside a city, they grow wild in all parts of the country. Once you have identified a nettle patch to pick from -- or bought some at the farmers market -- make sure to wear gloves when handling them raw. (They are called stinging nettles for a reason.) Once cooked, their sting goes away almost immediately. They've been a staple ingredient in Italian cooking for centuries, but one of my favorite preparations is nettle tea: bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add a cup of nettles, stir, and remove from heat and steep for ten minutes. Remove the nettles and reserve them for another use (put them in this pasta dough if you're resourceful), then drink the tea down in one gulp. You'll feel invigorated immediately.
Stinging Nettle Soup
This soup uses potatoes and leeks as a base, in the style of vichyssoise, and then nettles are added just before the soup is puréed so they keep their bright green color. (Nettles happen to love alliums.) It's great served warm or cold -- bring everything together with a drizzle of good olive oil and you'll be well on your way.
Chickpea and Nettle Crostini
If time allows, use dried chickpeas to make this crostini -- it'll make a difference. Soak them for at least 12 hours, then cook them in water with a bay leaf and a bit of olive oil. Once they're tender, remove from the heat and squeeze a whole lemon into the broth, leaving the rind in for extra flavor. Onto the crostini: toast your bread of choice, sauté fresh nettles in equal parts olive oil and butter with a little green garlic, then toss in the chickpeas just to incorporate. Pile on top of toast, and give the whole thing an extra dose of olive oil for good measure.
Scrambled Eggs and Nettles
Scrambled eggs are a great companion for pretty much anything, but nettles are perfection. The richness of delicately cooked scrambled eggs brings out the earthiness of the stinging nettles. Give the nettles a quick sauté in butter, and fold them into the eggs as they scramble. Toast on the side is optional, but recommended.
Stinging Nettle Fettucine with Pork Ragu
Make this for a special, end-of-the-week meal. Nettle fettucine is vibrant and beautiful and a nice way to sneak some extra flavor into the dough. For the sauce, I used pork shoulder -- I find the amount of fat and the way the meat pulls off the bone ideal for a ragu. Cook the whole shoulder on the bone with a bit of chicken stock, onions, and thyme. Then pick all the meat off, make your sauce, and be sure to reserve some liquid and fat for extra umami in the pasta dish.
French Fries with Baked Nettles and Rosemary
When she first opened the Spotted Pig, my friend April Bloomfield blew my mind with her simple french fries garnished with fried rosemary. For this dish, I applied that same formula and added crispy nettles. Bake nettles and rosemary (seasoned with olive oil and salt) in between two sheet trays for about 20 minutes, then remove and cool before sprinkling them over your favorite fries.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
3 egg yolks
1 cup blanched stinging nettles, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Extra flour for dusting
Photos by Gabriela Herman