Spring is great time for foraging for ingredients — along with ramps another of our favorite foraged spring greens are nettles.
Nettles are one of the first things that can be foraged at the first sign of spring, and they are often abundant. They like rich, loamy soil, so they can often be found in forested areas, near streams or ponds, and along the edges of pastures. They can also commonly be found around the edges of farm fields and buildings. If you choose to forage for them yourself, beware. They are also known as stinging nettles, and they do indeed sting when you touch them with bare skin. Make sure to wear gloves and when you pick them; just trim off the upper tips and leaves.
Nettles have a grassy flavor with hints of celery and mint. They have long been considered a spring tonic, sort of nature’s way of giving the body a little boost and spring cleanse. Nettles are rich in nutrients like iron, silicon, and potassium, and are very high in vitamins A and C. I like to steep mine in hot water, drink the nettle tea/infusion and then rinse the blanched greens in cold water. From this state they can be incorporated into any dish just like you would use blanched spinach However, the flavor is more grassy with notes of celery and mint.
At PRINT. we always do a classic Vichyssoise style soup with nettles as seen below with fried oysters. We will also will put them on our ricotta crostini and use them as a filling for wild greens ravioli.
Tama Matsuoka — who we source many of our nettles and foraged greens from — gives a recipe for microwaving them into crunchy nettle chips to sprinkle on top of dishes in her book, Foraged Flavor. I am eager to try out that recipe this spring and will report back on it.