I have become so Pacific Northwest. Special prize goes to the first person who can identify at least six quintessential PNW things about this post.
A few years ago, Dan suggested I try stinging nettles, a plant that rears up each spring and stings and irritates the skin of unsuspecting hikers and people generally not paying close enough attention. He claimed it was delicious, sorta like spinach. Having fallen victim to some of his not-so-successful food
adventures follies in the past, the short answer was “Nope”. He persisted, foraged some young leaves, and dried them out to make tea later. I was still not convinced. Every spring since then, it’s been “nettles this” and “nettles that”. I know they’re loaded with iron and vitamin A, but my lizard brain had issues eating something that obviously doesn’t even want to be touched.
My resolve was finally broken on April Fools Day after we participated in the Eat. Run. Hope. 5k event for Fetal Hope, put on by Ethan Stowell and Eastside Memorial Fetal Medicine. I’ll admit that when I registered, I was driven to do this 5k mostly for the food. Canlis, Volunteer Park Cafe, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Terra Plata, SAM Taste, Revel, Skillet, Golden Beatle, Marche, Via Trubunali and of course Ethan Stowell and Co. were among the restaurants offering small bites after the run. When April 1st arrived it was cold, windy and threatening to rain. We were both in the thick of that terrible, lingering cold going around that killed most of my appetite and turned a “5k run” into a “5k walk as fast as possible without passing out”. I was bummed that I couldn’t enjoy the food as thoroughly as I normally would have, but I was also graced with an epiphany: The only thing that tasted really good at that point was a creamy nettle soup that someone (Revel? Golden Beatle? I wasn’t paying close enough attention in my post-walk haze) offered up. It was perfection in a little compostable cup with a compostable spoon, topped with a few fried shallots and a small chive flower. Creamy but not heavy, earthy yet green at the same time, simple, sublime.
So now I’m a nettles fan, obviously. Lucky for me, Dan never says “I told you so” and loves to forage. He gathered and brought home a bag full after I sheepishly asked him for some when he alerted me about a good patch near his work campus. The season is relatively short so you have to jump on it if you want them–the young leaves are the best. I’ve wanted to try Langdon Cook’s Nettle Gnudi for ages, but we’d just returned from Coachella and didn’t have the most well-stocked fridge. However, we always have eggs from the ladies. I also had a jar of roasted red peppers, a chunk of Gruyère, a bit of milk, and some frozen pie crusts. Quiché for Saturday brunch it was.
Nettles need to be blanched, drained and squeezed out before they’re ready to use. Blanching requires a five-second dunk in boiling water, takes care of the stinging issue and reduces the leaves quite a bit.
I ended up with about a cup of chopped nettles and am sure that more or less really wouldn’t matter for a quiche. If you don’t take kindly to frozen pie shells, by all means make your own pie dough. Same goes for roasting your own red bell peppers, though I’ve never been disappointed with the jarred version and am more likely to use them when they’re ready to go (pssst…Trader Joe’s has great roasted red peppers in jars). I’ve used these pie crusts for awhile and am always happy with the results:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1 frozen pie shell, no need to thaw
1 cup chopped nettles, blanched and squeezed dry
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots or onion
3/4 cup Gruyère or similar cheese, grated
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
When oven is ready, remove one pie shell from the package (there are usually two) and place it in the oven for about 7 minutes, or until barely brown. Remove and set aside.
Toss the cheese with the flour in a bag or mix it together in a medium bowl.
Beat eggs and milk together. Add nettles, peppers, shallots, and nutmeg. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and mix well.
Fill prepared pie crust with egg mixture.
Place filled pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet on the center rack.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in center of quiche comes out clean.
Let your significant other bask in the glow of being right about nettles all along.