I have been spending much of these last days roaming the mountains around Sarajevo. M. keeps me company. Actually, he is quite a sweetheart about it, understanding how much I've missed the mountains after spending months in Lund and Chicago, both of which are fairly flat (but not without their own charms). So, he's game wherever and whenever I want to go.
We've been enjoying nettle throughout April, mainly by purchasing it or from family members bringing it over to share. There is also a man that comes to our neighborhood on Tuesdays and Fridays, parks his yellow van in the parking lot, and sets up a stand below a nearby tree. While chatting with the 'locals', he sells fresh eggs, milk, vegetables, and, occasionally, nettle. M. has been shopping there very often (eggs are always superb!). He's built a rapport with the man, and usually comes home quoting something funny or interesting he heard from him (e.g., he calls his scale soulless).
This time around, I wanted to include nettle-picking in our, almost daily, outings in the mountains. And get the freshest nettle possible. We hiked in the nearby mountain of Trebevic - the air was so light and fresh, and often it felt like we were the only people in the world. We sought birds in the trees (he always spots them first), I chose the nettle leaves I wanted and snipped them off with my gardening scissors; he held the paper bag, making sure the leaves do not get squished.
I may be boring you to death with this, but really, making an effort in obtaining the ingredients (slightly larger than, say, going to the market), really rounds off the entire experience and makes it more than just about cooking or eating. We discovered a horse grazing in the middle of the woods, a most beautiful tree in blossom, actually ran into some friends even, and got the fresh nettle. When we came home, I made the soup, crackers, and the tart, and we had them with roasted potatoes (they were a very refreshing addition). Even the meal had a sense of adventure about it.
You'll find the recipes below. What do you like to make with fresh nettle?
Stinging Nettle Cottage Cheese Tart
70 g (5 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 egg yolks
210 g (1,5 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup cold water
500 g (1 lb) fresh nettle, leaves/soft parts only
3 egg whites (what's left from the crust)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp cottage cheese
2 tbsp feta cheese
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp mixed pepper
Using a mixer, whip butter until it is light and airy. Add egg yolks one by one while whipping. Switch to a dough hook, add flour, sea salt, and oregano, and keep mixing until the mixture becomes crumbly. Slowly add the water and mix until the dough comes together. Shape into a disc with your hands, wrap in plastic foil and refrigerate for one hour.
Roll the dough on a flat, cool, and lightly floured surface, to a size that fits your preferred pie pan. Poke the dough here and there with a fork, lay with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and lightly golden. Remove the weights/beans and parchment paper. Let cool slightly while you prepare the filling. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).
To prepare the filling, start by chopping the nettle leaves. Whisk the egg with the egg whites, and add to the leaves. Add cheeses and mix together. Season with oil, salt and pepper, and stir gently until combined. Fill the crust and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fresh thyme.
Any leftover dough can be used to make crackers. Roll the dough to about 2 cm (little less than 1 in), cut into small squares and season with salt and sesame. Poke each a few times with a fork so that they don't rise when baking. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden at 150 C (300 F).
Simple Stinging Nettle Soup
500 g (1 lb) stinging nettle leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2-3 medium potatoes, cut
1 l vegetable stock (I used plain water)
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Lightly heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and potatoes, and cook for 5-10 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Add vegetable stock/water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes on medium to low heat, until potatoes are soft.
Add the nettle leaves and leave them in warm soup for a minute to wilt. Blend the soup with the mixer or a blender. You can add butter or cream to taste, but I think they make the soup a little heavy, so I just serve it as is, with crackers.