The stinging nettles are out on Pender! Delayed by a couple of weeks by that brief cold snap and dump of snow in February, I’m happy to report, after 3 days of picking, that while most of Pender is under at least three inches of water from recent torrential downpours, that has not prevented the velvety green tips of my favourite edible weed from emerging out of the puddles.
If you’ve never harvested nettles before, read this crash course in nettle picking for a few tips and fewer stings. Here’s a really quick tip: I prefer yellow dish gloves. Dollar Store ones will do — no need to get all fancy.
For some reason, gardening gloves let the stingers in. Seems a failure of purpose to me, but I’m a cook, not a gardener. What do I know?
I start to get excited about nettles in late January every year, and by the time they’re usually up here, in late February, my scissors, gloves and bag are ready to go by the front door. Nettles are green, juicy and delicious at a time of year when there’s not a lot else around.
I prefer their taste over spinach, and I love their price tag. I have a four excellent patches that I harvest during the season, which, with careful crop management (yes, I said it), can last through until mid-April.
Not a terribly long season, and really the young ones are the sweetest and most tender.
I pick everyday once I see the plants emerge, for about 45 minutes each time. Koda comes with me, and wanders about in the forest while I clip like mad.
When I’m home, I wash the nettles in a sink full of cold water, then blanch them for 1 minute in a big pot of boiling salted water. I use tongs and a smallish strainer basket to harness those slippery puppies in and out of the water. If you’re new to this, I suggest you keep the gloves on. After shocking the blanched nettles in ice water, I drain them, then gently squeeze them dry. I spread them on a cookie sheet, freeze, then bag them up for later!
You’ll find a ton of nettle recipes here.For these 6 nettlekopitas, I used 8 leafs of phyllo, about 1/2 lb of fresh nettles (4 very large handfuls) and 4 oz of feta
Stack 4 layers of phyllo pastry, brushing olive oil in between each. Repeat with the remaining phyllo. Top each with a moderate amount of blanched, squeezed nettles, a good dose of crumbled feta, 2 thinly sliced green onions and a pinch of dried oregano, salt and pepper.
I cut each of my stacks into 3 lengthwise strips, but 4 strips would make a nice cocktail-party size.
To fold, bring one of the bottom corners across to the opposite edge, forming a triangle. Fold the triangle over on itself over and over, pushing the nettle filling back in as you go. Brush the top edge with oil and seal. Repeat with remaining strips.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake at 400°F until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack at least 10 minutes before serving.