During spring, one of my favorite seasonal ingredients to cook with is stinging nettles. Urtica dioica is a perennial herb, and the very fine hairs on its leaves give it its name. They act like tiny needles, injecting histamines that produce a stinging sensation upon contact. A quick blanch in boiling water or sauté in a hot skillet removes the sting, and what remains is earthy green flavor and a powerhouse of nutrients. Nettles taste similar to spinach-meets-green-beans, and are commonly made into pesto, soup, or tea, or added to polenta or pasta. They’ve also been used as an herbal remedy for a whole host of ailments, from “reducing arthritis pain to treating seasonal allergies,” according to Medical News Today. Use a rubber glove to harvest them, pinching off the topmost tender leaves. This nettles dish brings salty, tangy St. Stephen triple-cream cheese to new heights, paired with crispy sunflower seeds and tender chickpeas. If you can’t find nettles, you can substitute spinach or green beans for an equally delicious dish.
- Prep time 8 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour
- Serves 2
kosher salt, plus more to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, for sautéing
roasted, salted sunflower seeds
(½ wheel) St. Stephen cheese (or another triple-cream cheese)
Freshly ground black pepper
- Soak the chickpeas overnight with enough water to cover by 2 inches.
- The next day, strain them and transfer to a saucepan, and cover with water by ½ inch. Add the baking soda and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chickpeas are tender. Season with salt, taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Remove the lid and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- Heat an oven or toaster oven to 250°F.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet. After foaming subsides, add the nettles and drag them through the butter. Add a small drizzle of oil (just enough to keep the pan from looking dry) and sauté the nettles, still over medium heat, for 2 minutes, until wilted but still bright green. Transfer the nettles to a dish.
- Add the sunflower seeds to the skillet, along with a small drizzle of oil (just enough to coat the pan). Fry sunflower seeds for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden and fragrant, then transfer them to a small dish.
- Place the cheese in an oven-safe bowl and bake for about 5 minutes, until it melts to your liking.
- Divide some chickpeas and their broth between 2 bowls (you’ll have some leftover—store in the fridge). Nestle the cheese on top of the beans, then arrange the nettles to frame the cheese. Scatter the crispy sunflower seeds around and add top with black pepper.