Take a Walk on the Wild Side June 2, 2011Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff, Rochester.
Tags: life on the edge, walking on the wild side
Besides the livestock – the dumber-than-dirt turkeys, smelly chickens, cute pigs, and friendly beef and dairy cattle – there was a little more to it than gathering eggs and slopping hogs.
No, I’m not talking about barn-cleaning – I’ll leave that to your imagination.
I’m recalling some of the field work we used to do – not just at home, but in school, too.
Why, do you know that, every spring, my “ag class” consisted of the entire class on a wagon, being hauled by a tractor, to the “ag field” where we spent what was left of the the class period picking rocks.
That’s right. Someone from another class (presumably) had already plowed the field, and the rest of the agriculture students got to load that big old wagon with rocks (big and small) for half an hour or so, clamber back up onto the wagon, and head for math or English class.
You know what we’d frequently find in and around the fields?
(Besides rocks, that is.)
Weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. I mean, sure, they were fairly harmless (unless, of course, you, ahem, suffered from hay fever) – after all, future farmers or not, this was a classroom full of high school students! It just wouldn’t do to have a class or three break out with poison ivy or something, would it?
That was about the time I made the acquaintance of stinging nettles – most of the kids knew to avoid them, but me, well, I’d recently relocated from a Midwestern suburb and hadn’t grown up working the fields. I know better now, though!
Last spring, one of the public market vendors was offering “nettles” as cooking greens, and I asked about them, and yes, he assured me, they were, in fact, what I knew as stinging nettles, and yes, you really can eat them.
And I said “huh” and “um, not today, thanks” and went on my merry way. I had learned my lesson well enough 30 years ago!
And then I kind of regretted it.
I mean, obviously, the vendors aren’t going to be selling something inedible – if they were, they certainly wouldn’t be vendors long, would they?
And I’d already kind of resolved that my trips to the market should be for more than just picking up onions and carrots – the public market is a place where I not only have the chance to buy produce that you don’t often see in stores – like ramps, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, fresh fava beans, and mom-shelled lima beans, to name a few – I can also talk right to vendor-farmer-forager and learn about just what I’m buying and what to do with it. Plus, if I don’t like it, I’m only out a couple of bucks.
So this year, once I saw the nettles at the stand, I was all over them.
And by all over them, I mean I made it a point to stop and buy them – at no time did I actually handle them. The vendor was emphatic on that point – be very careful, and don’t handle them without gloves on.
Then he explained that, by holding the greens by the stem end (with a gloved hand), I should blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes – as the stems wilt, I can lower them farther into the water until they’re submerged, and thus deactivate the “sting” in the nettles..
Once I got the weeds blanched, I wondered about what to do with them. (Besides touch them with my bare hands, that is – look, ma, no rash!)
Soup? Nah. Boring.
Saute them? More boring.
I tasted a leaf or two, and, to be honest, it was nothing weird or strange or exotic. It tasted kind of like spinach, sort of, only more green. More wild-tasting. So I fell back to my default “what shall I do with this” position and decided to throw it on my Friday night pizza – that works out for so many things! Chopped spinach (and other greens) are always welcome on my pizza, and I’d read some mighty nice things about wild nettle and pecorino cheese pizza.
A simple matter of Peeps’s lovely crust with a coating of olive oil, a bit of leftover ricotta, a goodly handful of blanched, then chopped, no-longer-stinging nettles, and some romano and a bit of mozzarella (for meltiness – I’m a fan of meltiness in pizza, aren’t you?) – and honestly?
This pizza was not half bad. In fact, it was mighty good. A few minor tweeks (more greens, for one), and I think I’ll be ready for next spring’s nettle season! Plus, I stashed enough nettles in the freezer for one more pizza night, so . . .
So have you ever tried something new and been surprised by just how good it was?