An ideal, quick and easy side dish and we are quite partial to the odd parsnip at the moment! Throw some grains into this recipe (like millet or buckwheat) and a couple oh handfuls of walnuts or hazelnuts and you’re looking at a fine lunch.
Don’t let the bristly stings put you off, nettles are one of natures greatest gifts to Brits, they come just after winter and are packed with brilliant nutrients (see the ‘Foodie Fact’ below) that will help us get over our long winter blues. You can make them into a soup, stew, smoothie, pan fry them as they are; in fact these prickly lovelies are good in most things. Nettle cupcakes may be pushing it however!
Nettles have a lovely flavour, quite unique, a little like spinach but with a unmistakable nettle tingle to them. Nettles really feel alive, they are certainly a feisty plant and grow everywhere when given the chance. The worst thing you can do with nettles is cut them and leave them on the ground. More will grow! This is a good thing for us but can wreak havoc on your Dahlias.
Harvesting nettles is so easy, just handle with care. We have been walking loads at the moment, reacquainting ourselves with all the local flora and fauna. We normally stash a plastic bags in our pockets and use it for nettle picking. A rubber glove, like a marigold or garden glove, can also be very handy. If you are walking on a path, where people walk dogs, pick high. For obvious reasons!!! Some people even pick the nettle bare handed, apparently if you grab them quickly, it doesn’t hurt. We have obviously not mastered this technique. OUCH!
Nettle season is coming to an end, but it seems that there are still many tender young plants around the Beach House. Just pick the first four leaves down, anything below will be a little tough and coarse. As with most leaves, don’t eat nettles when they have started to flower. Something happens chemically and they lose their nutrients and become tough on the belly.
Fill your boots. Now is the time of year to get your last batch of nettles and dry them for later in the year. You can use dried nettles in soups and stews, but its really best as a tea. Nettle tea is packed with nutrients and tastes delicious. Free food! We’d be silly not to!!!! You can also make a load of tea and then cool it, strain it and keep it in the fridge and drink throughout the summer as an awesome, chilled infusion and full-body tonic. Trust us, nettles are magic and will keep you shining!
One of the easiest ways to dry herbs, if you don’t have a dehydrator (they are becoming cheaper and more popular), is to lay your leaves out in the boot (for estates) or seats of a car and roll the windows up. On a hot summers day, your herbs will dry out in no time at all. You can dry herbs in a warm oven, but this can be energy consuming and hit and miss. Sometimes they can burn. Ideally, you live in a hot and dry part of the world, where drying means putting things outside in the sun. In Wales, we have to be a little more creative!
I like to add a little lemon juice at the end, just to lift a little of that intense sweetness. It gives a bit of a sweet and sour finish to the dish. If you love sweet things straight up, you don’t have to bother with the citrus.
The Bits – For 4 (little plates), 2 (big plates)
5 medium sized parsnips (lightly scrubbed, but not peeled. Cut into 3 inch batons or as you like)
6-8 big handfuls young nettles
1 tbs rapeseed oil
2 tbs maple syrup
1/2 tbs lemon juice
Sea salt and pepper (to taste)
Pick all the stems, insects etc off your gorgeous nettles (use your gloves for this), give them a good rinse. We just want the small, tender, fuzzy leaves. Get a small saucepan of salted water boiling. Add the nettles to the water and blanch them for 30 seconds or so, then plunge into some cold water (keeping them vividly green). Drain well just before serving. If you want them warm, just blanch them before you serve the parsnips and don’t bother with the ‘plunge’.
In a large, heavy frying pan, warm the oil on a medium high heat. Add the parsnips, toss in the oil and fry for around 7 minutes, until they begin to go golden and caramelised. Then add roughly 2 tbs of water and cover with a lid, lower the heat to medium and leave them for 7 more minutes.
Then whip off the lid and turn the heat back up. Pour over the maple syrup, gently toss the parsnips in the syrup and cook until you are happy with the beautiful, dark, caramelised glaze, a few minutes will do, then squeeze in a little lemon juice.
Stack the parsnips onto a nice plate, surround with a nettle ‘nest’ and tuck in. You may fancy a little more salt and pepper.
Foodie Fact – Nettles
Nettles are actually more nutritious than Broccoli or spinach. And they are free. How cool is that! I wonder how long until one of the big supermarkets starts to bag them up and sell them as a ‘niche’ product?
Eating nettles helps to keep our kidneys and adrenal glands up to speed. Nettles are the perfect detox food, as they assist our bodies in expelling toxins. These lovely leaves have also long been used as a diuretic and to treat joint pains.
Nettles are very high in Vitamin A (bones), K (blood clotting) and Calcium. In fact, just 100g of nettles contains 1/2 your daily calcium requirement. Calcium can help to alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, headaches, mood swings and bloating.
Nettles are also rich in minerals like Iron and Magnesium and are packed with dietary fibre.