Tag Archives: Cooking with nettles

ORTICHE – NETTLES in Risotto, Fresh pasta and Frittata

This post is about  using nettles in a risotto, fresh egg green pasta dough and a frittata.

It is also a celebration for the stall called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO in the Queen Victoria Market. This is where the nettles were purchased.

The information about nettles that I have  included in this post is by Richard Cornish from the 2022 August 16  issue of The Age Digital Edition.  I have included his text in italics. The article was published a couple of days after I made my frittata  and it has  greatly facilitated my writing about nettles.

What is it?

The botanic name for the stinging nettles genus is Urtica, coming from the Latin ‘‘ to burn’’ . These annual wild plants have deeply serrated leaves and hairs or trichomes on the leaves and stems that break off and shoot a little homegrown hypodermic under the skin. Packed with chemicals such as acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin, they cause temporary stinging and swelling. Those hairs disappear with washing and cooking, rendering the plant both harmless and delicious.

The nettle plant is called ortica. Nettles are called ortiche in Italian, and the stinging hairs do disappear very easily.

For making any nettle dish, wear rubber gloves and clean them  by stripping the leaves from any tough stems, but I kept the soft tips.

Why do we love it?

Sydney edible wild plant expert and author Diego Bonetto, author of Eat Weeds, says stinging nettles have been eaten in Australia for tens of thousands of years. ‘‘We have three species of nettles in Australia – one with long, narrow leaves is a native. The other two are exotic.’’ They are a source of minerals such as magnesium and have a lot of linoleic acids, which help lower LDL cholesterol. ‘‘ Tea made from stinging nettle is known as a blood tonic in many cultures,’’ says Benotto. Victorian chef Glenn Laurie would tramp through native stinging nettles on fishing trips with his dad in Gippsland. ‘‘I didn’t learn how delicious they were until I started cooking with them at The River Cafe in London,’’ he says.

‘‘They were cooked into the risotto, where they added bright green, a fresh note and luscious texture to the rice.’’ At La Cantina at Freshwater Creek, near Anglesea, nettles have sprung up where the compost was.

I too have made risotto with nettles and if any of you have made a spinach risotto you will have the process for making it under control. Here is a simple recipe with nettles. The same recipe can also be used substituting English spinach. I think that 300g of rice is sufficient for 6 people but use more if you wish.

carnaroli rice or arborio, 300g
nettles, 1 bunch or anything from 250-400g nettles
extra virgin olive oil
white wine, 1 cup
vegetable or chicken stock, 1 litre, heated
onion or leek, 1
butter, 40g
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano, good quality, grated to taste

Clean the nettles, wearing gloves; wash the leaves under cold water.

Make a nettle purée . Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the nettles and wilt them by covering with a lid. Add about a cup of stock and cook them till they are soft. It will not take long, depending on the quantities of the nettles, for about 5-10 minutes. Once they are cooked, blend the nettles and make a purée.

Make the risotto: Sauté the onion or leek with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and toast it by mixing it for a few minutes. Add the white wine and evaporate it. Add some of the stock and continue cooking it by adding more stock until the rice is nearly cooked. Add the nettles and finish cooking. Risotto should never be dry.  Italians say – all’onda (like waves).

Stir in the butter just before serving and present it with grated cheese. I also like to grate a little nutmeg on the risotto, especially when I am making it with spinach.

‘‘We make pasta with a puree of cooked leaves. You need to get as much of the moisture out [before mixing into the dough] because it will affect the ratio of flour and liquid,’’ Laurie says. He loves serving nettle puree enriched with extra virgin olive oil alongside seafood.

Once again, the process of making fresh, green pasta with nettles is the same as when using spinach.

Suggested ingredients and amounts: 300g durum wheat four, 2 eggs, 90g of pureed spinach.

Wilt the spinach, leaving some of the water retained by the leaves and cook till softened. Drain them, squeeze them as much as possible. This is when some muslin or a cotton cloth could come in handy to squeeze out the liquid.  Blend them and cool before using. In a bowl, combine the flour and eggs, add the spinach puree and start working everything, use a fork at first to mix the ingredients. Continue by hand to knead well and depending on the size of the eggs  and moisture in the spinach you may need to add a little flour water to have the right consistency. Rest it for about an hour, covered with a tea towel  Roll it and cut it to shape.

How do you use it?

While Italian nonnas appear to handle nettles with impunity, it’s best to wear rubber gloves, handling the plants from the base of the stem, and wash them in a sink of cold water to remove grit. Blanch in boiling water for a minute then refresh in iced water.

A nonna is not likely to purchase a bunch of nettles,  she or a family  member would  collect them from the wild.  I have collected nettles on many occasions, armed with scissors, thick rubber gloves and large plastic bags.

After cleaning and washing the nettles,  you can blanch them but I put them in a small bowl and I poured a kettle of boiling water on to them. That was enough to wilt them sufficiently to make my frittata. (looks like I made myself a cup of tea at the same time).  Drain them.  I do not see the need to refresh them under cold water.

The Brits have made nettle and veg soup for millennia but sometimes cook nettles in rich stock thickened with cream. The Spanish mix nettles with prawns and eggs to make a tortilla, while the Greeks make a pie, a bit like spanakopita, which they call hortikopita (wild weed pie). Nettles cooked with butter, shallots and cream make a smooth, unctuous puree as a bed for succulent seafood like scallops.

I like the idea of the puree as an accompaniment to many meat, fish and egg dishes and not just scallops.

Where do you get it?

Not in the supermarket. Some specialty greengrocers carry nettles but you’re more likely to find them at a farmers’ market. Or you could forage in the ’burbs or the country. Take a reference picture and look for disturbed soil or around trees where farm animals sleep.

On this occasion my partner saw them and bought them from Gus and Carmel from the Queen Victoria Market from their stall, now returned to its original location in the newly renovated shed close to Peel street.

The Fruttivendolo ( fruit seller/ green grocer) is by far the most attractive and well stocked stall in the market and this is where you will find  vegetables and fruit of Italian origin in abundance.

Their produce is superb! They are only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Now back to making the FRITTATA with nettles.

Ingredients: I bunch of nettles, 6 eggs, 3-4 spring onions or a leek, some cheese – I used feta but ricotta or grated Parmesan is also good. Extra virgin olive oil and butter, salt and pepper.

Clean the nettles (see above) and wash in cold water. soften the nettles by pouring boiling water on to them or plunging them into a pan of hot water and boil for a few minutes.

Drain the nettles.

Saute some spring onions  or a leek (softer tasting than onion) or a small onion in some butter and extra virgin olive oil.

Add the drained nettles to the sautéd onion and continue to sauté the ingredients for a few minutes. Remove the ingredients from the pan and let cool.

Lightly beat some eggs with a fork.

Add  the sautéd ingredients, salt and pepper into the eggs and gently stir through. On this occasion I used some cubed , mild  tasting feta, on other occasions I have used ricotta, formaggio fresco, or grated Parmesan cheese.

Re – oil the frying pan if necessary, heat it and gently pour in the mixture.

Press it around to try and cook as much of the mixture as possible.

Invert  the frittata onto a plate to flip to the other side. Return it to the frypan and  cook it.

Other recipes:

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

RISOTTO AL RADICCHIO ROSSO

RISOTTO AL TALEGGIO,  risotto made with Taleggio cheese

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

NETTLES (Ortiche), Culinary uses and gnocchi

You may have noticed that use of nettles in culinary dishes are gaining popularity. Some Melbourne restaurants have included nettles and there were bunches for sale at the Queen Victoria Market a couple of weeks ago (Il Fruttivendolo – Gus and Carmel’s stall). Gus and Carmel have not been able to procure any nettles for the last couple of weeks so maybe demand by restaurants has increased.

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Nettles (ortiche in Italian) are part of the assortment of wild greens –  considered unwanted weeds by many and appreciated edible plants by others. Wild greens in Italian are referred to as piante selvatiche (wild plants) or a term that I find very amusing: erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs).

Nettles are high in nutrients such iron, magnesium and nitrogen and can be eaten in many recipes – I ate them not so very long ago incorporated in the gnocchi dough in a trattoria in Cividale del Fruili, a lovely little town in the Province of Udine, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy.

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Once back in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed them on several occasions as a sauce for gnocchi at Osteria Ilaria and at Tipo 00 nettles have been part of a risotto since it opened– both excellent eateries are owned by the same team.

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Matt Wilkinson, of Brunswick’s Pope Joan has also been a fan of nettles for a long time.

Nettles are easily found anywhere where weeds can grow. If you have ever touched nettles you would know that they sting, cause redness and itching so use rubber gloves when you harvest them. Nettles need to be cooked before eating and because they reduce significantly when cooked, you will need a large amount of them.

Remove the stems and choose the best leaves – the tender young leaves from the tips are best; wash and drain them as you do with any other green vegetable. Blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for minute or so – this softens them and removes the sting and you will end up with a dark green soft mass which you may choose to puree even further to gain a smooth, soft paste. Drain and use them – once cooled they can be included in a gnocchi or pasta dough or in a sauce to dress the pasta or gnocchi.  Incorporate them as part a soup – great with cannellini or chickpeas. Mix them with eggs and a little grated cheese to make a frittata. For a risotto either use the already softened nettles or sauté the leaves with whatever ingredients you are using for the risotto and then add the rice and broth.

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On my recent travels to Northern Italy I ate gnocchi with nettles in a trattoria in Cividale dei Fruili. The cheese used to top the gnocchi is smoked ricotta.

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You will find many recipes for making potato gnocchi and I generally use about 500 grams of boiled potatoes, 150 grams of softened/ blanched cold nettles, 1 egg, 150 grams of flour.

You could also try gnocchi made with bread.

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Bread gnocchi

Equal amounts of nettles and bread, i.e.
300 g of nettles, blanched and drained
300 g of good quality white bread (crusts removed and preferably 1-2 days old)
milk to soften the bread
1 large egg
seasoning – salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
about 2 – 4 tablespoons plain flour to bind the mixture (try to use as little as possible) and
grated parmesan can also replace some of the quantities of the flour

N.B. Spinach instead of nettles can be used in the recipe.

Dampen the bread with some milk and squeeze any moisture from out before using. Mix the cooled nettles with the bread in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and knead well. Add the flour gradually and make small balls with the dough. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Boil in salted water until they float to the top.

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A simple sauce can be some lightly browned melted butter with sage leaves and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Walnuts, garlic, seasoning, olive oil and butter can be blended till smooth and will make a great dressing. Or try the classic Genovese walnut pesto made with marjoram. See: PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking I have written about wild greens in Sicily.

Posts about Sicilian wild greens on my blog are:

EDIBLE WEEDS: Orecchiette e Broccoletti Selvatici (and cime di rape)

SICILIAN EDIBLE WEEDS and Greek VLITA

Use the search button to find recipes for other foraged vegetables, i.e. Wild Fennel, Chicory, Wild Asparagus, Malabar spinach, Purslane, Mushrooms.