Along the Grapevine


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Nettle Roulade

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A great substitute for spinach, stinging nettles, or urtica dioica, are an easily identifiable wild plant thanks to their particular ability to sting. The stems and leaves are covered in fine needle-like hairs containing three different toxins. As long as you wear protective clothing and especially sturdy gloves, they are easy to pick, and once steamed or dried, all the sting is lost. The plant appears in early spring and grows to about 1 meter in height. It has heart-shaped leaves with jagged edges.

They are commonly found in woodlands, in fields with rich, moist soil, and often near where there has been human habitation. It is invasive, and most people who find it on their properties use it for compost where its nutrients can be put to use. However, before it is fully mature and flowers, the leaves and stems are not only edible, but one of the most nutritious greens available to us. Because of its medicinal qualities, it has been most often dried and used primarily as a tea. More recently its nutritional value has been recognized and people are rediscovering many ways it can be used – in soups, as pesto, steamed or pureed.

To pick them, I remove the top leaves with my gloved fingers and drop them immediately into a bag or colander. Once picked, I rinse them in the colander and put them in a pot with little or no water, except what adheres to the leaves – and in seconds flat they are cooked. At that point I can remove my gloves.

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Once steamed, they can be frozen, or chopped or pureed for immediate use. Mix them with a little minced garlic, seasoning and lemon and they make a perfect green accompaniment for most meals.

With my last batch I prepared a squash roulade which I filled with nettles and cheese. I sometimes mix the nettles with other greens and herbs from the garden. The flavour, like spinach, is quite mild, so mixing it with other flavours is easily done.

Nettle Roulade

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/3 cup plain flour

2/3 cup mild

1/3 cup cooked, pureed squash

4 eggs, separated

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 pound nettles

1/4 lb cheese, such as goat or mozarella

1/2 cup dandelion or other pesto

Steam the nettles and chop or puree. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir in the flour. Gradually add the milk, continuing to stir. Add the squash and salt. Allow the mixture to cool.

Beat in the egg yolks. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the sauce.

Prepare a shallow cooking tray by lining it with parchment paper and lightly greasing it. Pour the batter into it and spread it around evenly. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Immediately, spread the top with pesto, then the chopped or pureed greens, and finally the chopped or grated cheese. Starting with one of the long sides of the rectangle, roll it using the parchment paper. Then remove the paper.

If you are not able to fill it immediately, roll the ‘cake’ as above with no filling and when you are ready to fill it, unfold it, fill it and roll it again. If you try and roll a cooled cake, it will break. The method for rolling is in third picture below, without filling.

Best served at room temperature.

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Nettle Roulade on Punk Domestics


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A Taste of Greens

 

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I have been busy these last few days. So many wild greens available, and many of them for only a few days more, so must harvest while I can. The result of all this is that we have been consuming more than our fair share of nature’s spring freebies. So today I prepared a mixture of wild greens served on pasta with nothing more for flavouring than the greens themselves to bring to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #15.. A generous bunch of mint and a handful of young garlic precluded the need for anything alien to the fields, like cheese or lemon. Only the salt, pasta and oil for frying came from afar.

This is not a recipe – just a way to make good use of these seasonal treats. You could use any spring greens, such as spinach and asparagus, but if you have anything edible and green available, this is a good way to use it.

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I used a mixture of previously steamed (10 minutes) fiddleheads, ramp and dandelion leaves, young garlic, chives and mint. I fried the garlic first in oil, added the greens next and the mint near the end. I added salt to taste and one ladle of the pasta water to avoid any burning, and covered it all and let it heat through for a few minutes – as long as it took to consume half a beer.

And speaking of drinks, with the money I saved with this meal, I was able to splurge on a bottle of white wine.

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Fiesta Friday Badge Button I party @

Fiddleheads on Punk Domestics


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Jerusalem Artichoke Gnocchi

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Jerusalem artichoke gnocchi with crusted squash slices

And so begins the first of my experiments in making pasta with Jerusalem artichokes. Although you can buy the flour at some health food stores for an exorbitant price, there are still few recipes out there which use it. It seems that, so far, its only use is to take it as a remedy or food supplement rather than treat it as a worthwhile food in its own right.

So I made gnocchi, with the flour, and with gluten-free (rice) flour. Of course, you can use wheat flour too, which in fact would make the rolling process a little easier, but I wanted to make sure that a gluten-free version was feasible, and even tasty.

Jerusalem Artichoke Gnocchi

2 cooked potatoes (about 10 oz)

2 eggs

1 cup rice flour

1/2 cup Jerusalem artichoke flour

1 tsp. salt.

Mash the potatoes thoroughly. Add the eggs and beat or at least stir vigorously. Gradually add the flours and salt and mix until all the dry ingredients are blended in. Knead it a bit until it sticks together well.

Roll out about a lemon-sized bit of dough at a time into a rope, and cut the rope into pieces of about 3/4 of an inch.

Cook a few at a time in boiling water. When they come to the surface (it only takes about a minute) spoon them out with a slotted spoon.

100_0889To make the sauce, I heated a little oil and butter in a frying pan, added some onion or shallots, garlic, fresh thyme and sage, and after a couple of minutes added the cooked gnocchi and fried until the gnocchi were lightly browned.

Any other pasta sauce would work well. They would be good I think with either a tomato or cream sauce with lots of herbs, olives, cheese etc.

I served mine with crusted squash slices, based on a recipe I used from Yotam Ottolenghi, which he calls Crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream. I made a few changes, which is why my picture looks different from his, i.e. much darker. For bread crumbs, I used purple bread, which is something I will explain in a future post, but if you don’t have any of that handy, just use bread crumbs of your choice. I also used powdered sumac instead of zest of 1 lemon, but in case you have run out of sumac, feel free to revert to the lemon.

For the squash, I used a peanut squash. This was the first year I grew that variety. I like it because its little peanut shapes all over the skin are amusing, but you can use any kind of squash you like.

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Peanut squash

Another variation on Ottolenghi’s recipe is that I had some corn husks on hand instead of aluminum foil. He recommends that if the crust starts to get overcooked before the squash is done, place some foil on it. Without wanting to sound too sanctimonious, I do not like using aluminum, so I have frozen some steamed corn husks for purposes such as this. They are compostable, water-proof, and free. However, there was no need for it after all, but I just wanted to share this tip with you. You could use, should you have them, any non-toxic leaf, such as grape leaves.

Recipe for crusted squash

1 1/2 lbs squash, skin on

1/2 cup grated parmesan

3 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs

6 Tbsp chopped parsley

2 1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme

1 Tbsp sumac powder

2 garlic cloves, minced

salt and white pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut the squash into 3/8 in. thick slice and lay them on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment.

Mix together the Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, sumac, garlic, salt and pepper.

Brush the squash generously with olive oil and sprinkle with the crust mix, making sure the slices are covered with a nice, thick coating. Gently pat the mix down a little.

Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 30 min, or until the squash is tender.

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Crusted squash slices

I served the gnocchi on a bed of steamed malva and dandelion leaves, taking advantage of the last days I was able to pick greens from the garden. By tomorrow, they will all be covered in the white stuff according to the weather forecast. To accompany the squash, I mixed fresh chopped dill with plain yoghurt instead of sour cream.