Nettles might seem an unusual spring ingredient. But as a completely free vegetable, that you’re likely to find just a few metres from your doorstep and one that has more nutrients than spinach – you must give it a go. The ultimate in local, fresh and sustainable produce, nettles have a deep, earthy, mineral taste, not too dissimilar to spinach. They are best harvested between February and April when they are at their freshest – pick only the top four or five leaves for the best taste.
When they are raw, handle the nettles with gloves, but don’t worry, once they are cooked, the sting completely disappears.
Serves 6 as a vegetarian main course, or 12 as part of a main course.
two litres vegetable stock
six tablespoons olive oil
four banana shallots diced finely
four crushed garlic cloves
one celery stick diced finely
800g risotto rice
200ml white wine
salt and pepper
150g butter cubed
180g freshly grated parmesan
200g nettle leaves
1. Firstly, wash your nettles and bring a large pan of water to the boil with at least a tablespoon of salt (to help the nettles retain their colour). Add the nettles to the water and stir. After about 30 seconds, once they begin to wilt, drain them, rinse them in cold water and squeeze them dry – don’t worry, they should no longer sting. Then leave them to dry.
2. Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and keep it at a slow simmer – we’d recommend making your own vegetable stock out of vegetables you have in the cupboard – onions, carrots, fennel, garlic, celery, parsley, bay leaves – simmer in a large pot of water for at least two hours – but supermarkets do great ready made stock otherwise.
3. Heat a large heavy based pan and add the olive oil on a low heat. Add the shallots, garlic and celery and sweat gently for five minutes until the onions are translucent. Turn the heat up and add the rice with a little salt and pepper. Cook for two-three minutes but stir regularly – the rice should go slowly clear on the edges and suck up some of the olive oil.
4. Add the wine and cook until the rice has absorbed it all – slowly stirring all the time (risotto is a labour of love!)
5. Turn the heat down to medium and add a few ladles of the warm stock, cooking untill all absorbed – again stirring all the time. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked – which can take 20 – 30 minutes. Taste it until it is cooked to your liking, you want it to have a little bite.
6. Add the butter and parmesan, taste and add any extra seasoning if it needs it. Put the lid on, and wait for all the flavours to infuse for two minutes.
5. Finely chop your blanched nettle leaves and add them to the risotto, stirring well and serve immediately.
This risotto is great as a vegetarian dish with some roasted vegetables on top, or as the base for a pan fried fillet of fish, or some slow braised beef or veal.