Monday, 31 May 2010
Frankly.....I wouldn't advise it.
Jane Grigson says of nettles that they're in the same category as spinach, but just not as good. It's the sort of ingredient to be found on restaurant menus throughout France, which people choose for its curiosity value and come away surprised at how 'not bad' it turns out to be. I remember a sauce made with nettles at a lunch in Paris several years ago - rich bottle-green in colour, and with a strongly mineral flavour which gave some character to the bland white fish with which it was served - and that the 'it's really quite good' response was exactly mine at the time.
For years, the Technical Department has been saying 'we should do something with these', every time the four-footeds have led us to the large and vigorous patch of vibrant green nettles which regularly appears near the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. Needless to say, we never have - but as I was tearing into the shoulder-high patch of nettles under the Cacci trees to the north of the romitorio the other week, I was reminded of the idea, and a large carrier bag was stuffed with the things accordingly.
There are various methods for dealing with them, but essentially all you do is pick the leaves from the stalks and cook them to a mush (either in lots of salted water, or else in a very little water, depending on who's version you follow) before processing them to a purée. At that point, I added them to some diced onion and garlic which had been sweated in melted butter, and then stirred into the mixture a generous half-cup of cream, and adjusted the seasoning. It looks wonderful. But really, that's about as far as it goes. The flavour of the nettles is frankly rather monotonous, and heavy. Thank heavens for the taste of garlic in the sauce, which at least introduces another note.
On the first evening, we had the sauce over fresh ravioli, stuffed with spinach and cheese. The parmesan in the ravioli helped to lighten the oppressive one-note quality of the sauce...but more cheese and less sauce would have been better....and indeed no sauce at all would have been a distinct improvement! I gave the stuff a second chance on the following evening, when I used a quantity of the sauce as the basis for a soufflé. No good. Positively lumpen.
With a last regretful look at the rich, British-Racing-Green colour, I emptied the rest of the sauce down the garbage disposal, and got the wheelbarrow out in order to finish clearing the rest of the things from the garden.
On reflection, we concluded that Jane Grigson's description should be qualified to read: Not as good as spinach...but better than grass clippings. And then, having thought about it some more, the qualification should further read: Better than grass clippings (but not by much...)
Smoked Mackerel Rillettes, with a Tomato Salad in Lemon Vinaigrette.
Spit Roast Chicken (the wall barbecue is now installed and functioning in the new kitchen!); Broccoli purée.