Yet another great thing about the Greenmarket is that it's probably the best place in the City to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger without their thinking you are
a) insane and possibly dangerous,
b) running a con, or
c) sexually available.
So when the woman next to me at Paffenroth Gardens told the guy bagging her stuff that the stinging nettles were also hers, I just had to ask. As it happened, she was captain of the Stinging Nettle Cheerleading Squad, so she was a good person to ask.
"Oh it's fantastic. You cook it just like spinach and it's loaded with nutrients. It strengthens your hair and nails, it boosts the immune system, it's a blood and liver cleaner, . . ." She went on about its virtues for a while, but honestly she had me at liver cleaner (Cheers!). Besides, stinging nettles. It just sounds so delightfully Hogwartian.
And as it turned out, they are definitely from Advanced Herbology.
I want to be very clear on this point, so in case you can't make out the sign hastily snapped with my cell phone camera, the highlighted bit reads, Be careful when handling - can cause ITCHING.
At least two really important factors distinguish stinging nettles from spinach:
a) A tidy bundle purchased at an urban farmer's market stand can, in fact, cause itching. Running into a patch of them in the wild could, conceivably, result in modest blood loss.
b) They contain little moisture and retain less, so should therefore be prepared as quickly as possible after harvesting. After three days in the fridge, they were heading closer toward dried herb than leafy green.
Regarding a, use gloves when handling raw nettles. Seriously.
Regarding b, well, yeah. That was kind of a shame. Sauteeing and steaming were just ghastly--the worlds thinnest show leather. The scary spiny bits had cooked down (away?) so it was no longer dangerous, but tough and weirdly fishy smelling--like spirulina. Dis. Gus. Ting. Corey, my puppy daddy, physically recoiled when I shoved it under his nose.
But, thanks to Julia Child, all was not lost. I've recently discovered that it's rather useful to keep some of her potage parmentier base (the slurry of potatoes and leeks, before the cream is added) in the fridge. Mine isn't religiously adherent to hers, I use Vegeta instead of salt and a bit less water, but still. Delightful on it's own--once the cream is added, of course--it's also handy for absorbing any extra crisper items that might be on the train for Funkytown. Particularly those few too many mushrooms I always end up with. And now those dried out nettles.
Coupla pints of potage, coupla hands full of nettle leaves, simmer 10 minutes, hit it with the immersion blender (sorry again, Mrs. Child), and add cream. Hmm, still a little fishy. No! I can make this work, goddamit!
Actually, after a bit of tinkering, it wasn't that hard. Big knob of butter, tad more cream, several vigorous turns of the pepper grinder, and--crucially--a big splash of white wine vinegar. And just like that, magically delicious!
Blast from the Past: After several weeks of non-appearance on their part, I got what seem to be the four very last Italian Heirloom Eggplant of Undetermined Proper Name of the season from Stokes Farm last week. As I suspected last time, stuffing them was the way to go. The skins are inedibly tough, but a stunning color, so perfect for presentation.
I pricked their circumference with a skewer just below the stem then baked them whole. In retrospect, 15 - 20 minutes would have been plenty, but I was keeping one eyeball on several things I was cooking at once and the other eyeball on a rather sprightly puppy, so these specimens were perhaps a moment or two past ideal, though I don't think you could tell it by the finished dish.
After they cooled a bit, I cut off the stem end at the perforations and used a demitasse spoon to scrape out the meat. If you do this carefully, you can get out every last molecule of edible matter and have a perfect skin to stuff. I pulsed the eggplant pulp with some fresh bread crumbs, and dried basil and savory in the Cuisinart till gooey then stirred in two chopped leftover fried green tomato slices. Then I stuffed the skins and put them back in the oven long enough to boil, drain, and toss spaghetti with homemade pesto, about 12 minutes. Voila.
Finally, if I may, I'd like to give a well deserved shout out to my fantastically talented friend Carla. Actors, singers, executive directors, and all other performing artists--your attention please. If she can present a spastic, squirmy 11 week old as this noble beast,
just imagine what she could do with your headshot.