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Run, forage, run

May 27, 2013

Foraging and running, as I discovered last week, are ideal bedfellows. With one notable exception.

A particularly autumnal late-May afternoon in between particularly heavy downpours, I was running through the deserted Hackney Marshes. Fenced in by waterways, and surrounded by a thin slither of trees and wild undergrowth, my eyes were peeled  for anything that looked tasty. Ideally I’d find a thicket of wild garlic, what with this being closer to home, and the previously discovered patch in Hampstead being a bit paltry.

Of wild garlic, there was no sign. However, there was an abundance of nettles. Clad in shorts and a tshirt, with bare hands and nowhere to stash a haul, now was clearly not the moment to go picking. So I trotted off home with empty hands and a plan hatching. On Saturday, appropriately attired and with a sizeable tupperware box and some thick gloves, I returned to the Hackney Marshes.

The resulting discovery was so good, I’m going to be pretentious enough to share a recipe!

Nettles

Grasping the nettle…

Nettle fiorentina pizza

I don’t tend to measure stuff, so this ingredients list (and whole recipe) is going to be a little idiosyncratic…

  • Smallish mound of strong white bread flour
  • Teaspoon or so of dried yeast
  • Up to half a pint of warm water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Handful of semonina
  • Can of chopped tomatoes
  • A squeeze of tomato puree
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Oregano
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Quite a lot of nettles (cake-tin sized collection of them, potentially a bit more)
  • Mozzarella ball
  • One egg per person
  • Lots of freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/3 to 1/2 a nutmeg)
  • A hearty grinding of black pepper
  1. To make the dough, mix the flour, yeast, a pinch of salt and a generous glug of olive oil in a bowl. Add about half the warm water and stir in with a fork. Continue to stir and add more if it becomes crumby and you’ve got flour that still needs to be incorporated.
  2. At the point where there’s no dry flour remaining and you can clean the bowl out by rolling the dough round, turn it out on to a clean work surface and knead for 10 minutes. Remember to do your best Paul Hollywood impression – occasional slow-motion stretching and slapping of dough, erotic kneading, occasional smoky glances at camera. By the time your other half is feeling a bit queasy, your dough’s ready to rest.
  3. Oil the bowl, plonk the dough unceremoniously into the bowl, cover in clingfilm, and leave somewhere warm. This is a good moment to pop out to go pick some nettles – go for the upper few inches, ideally judging whether the leaves look tender or not, and remember that (similar to spinach) the greens will shrink down substantially.
  4. To make the tomato sauce, cook off the tomato puree until it’s browned a bit, then add the can of chopped tomatoes. Add in chopped (or crushed) garlic, a pinch of salt, oregano and a nice glug of balsamic. Leave to simmer until thick.
  5. Rinse your nettles carefully (I transferred them to a colendar, held under a running tap and poked with a wooden spoon) and set a big pan of water to boil. Once the nettles are rinsed and the water has reached a rolling boil, transfer the nettles into the pan (again, a poking job for the wooden spoon). After a minute or so, drain and rinse cold water over the nettles. Squeeze them gently to get the worst of the water out (the sting’s all gone now) and leave to dry out.
  6. Once your dough has doubled in size (takes a few hours, although depends on the temperature of your proving-place), turn your oven to maximum (the Spinal Tap setting, if you will), scatter a handful of semolina over your work surface. Now, remembering to channel Paul Hollywood, erotically finger your dough to knock it back. Then scoop it out and on top of the semolina. Knead until all semolina is incorporated into the dough (it should feel a bit grainy and you should have a reasonable coating of semolina) and then flatten it out roughly. Transfer to pizza stone (or baking tray) and stretch until it covers the area you want. Place into the scorching-hot oven.
  7. In preparation, chop your nettles roughly so that you can easily distribute evenly. After the pizza base has had somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes in the oven (or until it’s puffing up a bit and starting to develop a crust), take out and assemble the toppings. Spread the tomato sauce evenly, scatter torn nettles over the top, then evenly distribute the mozzarella. Break the egg(s) over the pizza – trying to avoid shell and letting the egg white run over the edge of the crust – and then grate on a generous amount of nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper.
  8. Return the pizza to the oven for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes – very much depends on the quality of your oven – until the eggs are cooked and the crust is crispy. If necessary, give it a bit longer at a lower temperature to let the eggs set but avoid burning the crust.
  9. Serve. Make a smug comment about the quality of the bake and not having a soggy bottom, insist on calling your partner ‘Mary’, ask them whether they’d like to have any more sherry.
Nettle fiorentina

The organic way of solving your nettle infestation.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2013 1:13 pm

    I’ve never tried nettles, but I had my first foraging experience with dandelion greens the other week and made huevos rancheros with them! {recipe on blog} I just found a match of wild mustard greens that I want to give a shot haha

    • May 27, 2013 6:29 pm

      Nettles are a good substitute for spinach. Thinking of trying dandelion greens soon as we’ve got a big patch of them coming up in the garden – may give your recipe a go!

      • May 27, 2013 6:36 pm

        Definitely go out and grab those greens before they get too big and bitter! I want to experiment more with wild greens, but my family is a little hesitant haha

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