Updated: May 4
Today it's a recipe kind of a blog post with a preamble... I keep coming back to that Rebecca Solnit quote "The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters" and it got me thinking about the proximity of pleasure and pain (danger and possibility) when you spend more time in close contact with the earth. I'll write more about the ethics of foraging in a future post (and I've talked lots about it before) but there is something incredibly exciting about plucking a few leaves from a forest to turn into a meal and maybe that thrill comes in part from the deadly risk of a mistaken identity. One of my favourite plants to forage is Alexanders (wild celery) - ubiquitous around the Kent coast and edible in all stages of its life cycle - but like it umbelliferous cousins Hogweed and Ground Elder, it has a fair bit in common with the extremely poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort. It is like nature has it's own way of telling us that we need to take time to learn about what we eat, not just mindlessly shove things in our mouths!
Yesterday I mentioned the beautiful young stinging nettles that are so abundant at the moment and they are the absolute essence of the pleasure/pain boundary. I like to pick them without gloves, but only after years of figuring out how to do it with only a few little finger-tip stings - just enough to create a little buzz, not enough to be really uncomfortable. Supposedly the Romans used to flog themselves with nettles to stimulate blood circulation and keep warm in the chilly north, whilst others have used them to variously treat rheumatism, disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, locomotor system, skin, cardiovascular system, hemorrhage, influenza, rheumatism, and gout. It is one of the 9 herbs in the Anglo-Saxon "Nine Herbs Charm" to cure infection - which I highly recommend for bedtime reading and best of all, there is a World Nettle Eating championship in Dorset (raw nettles!) just down the road from our new base!
I've cooked with nettles a lot over the years, the only problem with them is that they go a real dark green which doesn't always look very appetising, but they make for delicious gnocchi with a bit of nutmeg (we served them with fresh crab and a sharp cheese foam at Custom Folkestone); an earthy nettle broth matches perfectly with sea bass and young carrots roasted in pine needles or the classic nettle soup. But today I'm going to share the most simple and tasty way I found to serve nettles...
Nettle Crisps, with miso mayo
Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
Pick nettles on their stalks (try to get them young when the stalks are still delicate but the leaves are not too tiny)
Wash the nettles and pat dry
Lay on a baking tray (don't pile them up too much) and douse fairly liberally with good quality sesame oil, use a pastry brush or similar to make sure all the leaves get a bit of oil on them
Sprinkle with sea salt
Bake in the oven for approx 10-20 minutes, check regularly, depending on the size, the time changes a lot. When they have gone darker green and crispy they are done (if they go brown, they are burnt).
In the meantime mix a teaspoonful of miso paste with 2 tbsp mayo (vegan mayo works fine here) and serve on the side for dipping