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Biting back – eat your stinging nettles.

Well, we are. Notoriously garden and lawn invasive, nettles are also sneaking back into the kitchen and on restaurant menus. Simon Thomsen’s SMH review of Icebergs Dining Room & Bar a few months ago mentioned chef Roberto Marchetti’s,classic stracciatella chicken broth with stinging nettles and cognac”. Maggie Beer whipped up nettles for Simon Bryant recently on their TV show and in our regional Canberra restaurant Sage, (SMH Good Food Guide one hatted), chef Thomas Moore has long had nettles on his winter menu, and he currently uses them in a risotto with mascarpone to accompany slow braised lamb (See our story and recipe).

So are nettles likely to be the next food fad like rocket / roquette?

Probably not. We may have introduced (unwittingly) some of the nettle varieties, but we’ve never adopted the culture of eating them that goes with it. Considering that a few minutes cooking removes any sting from the nettle and leaves a wild green that tastes as good as, and is less bitter than spinach, that is surprising.

The recent English translation of
the 1950 Italian cookbook Il cucchiaio d’argento - The Silver Spoon, was criticised for leaving out some of the older traditional ingredients in it’s desire to be accepted by modern cooks.

It has however, three nettle recipes presented rather matter-of-factly with no handling warnings. There’s one for risotto, one for a nettle soup, and a potato and nettle gnocchi. If you are Italian (or French) you are expected to know this vegetable well. I’ve searched my old Australian cookbooks and I haven’t found even a mention of cooking stinging nettles, which suggests a real ‘nettle culture’ difference.

Australian food historian and blogger, Janet Clarkson points out that “It is not surprising that there are almost no recipes for it in cookbooks – if one could afford to buy a cookbook, and had an education that enabled one to read it, presumably one would not be eating wayside weeds. Alexis Soyer, the most famous chef of the Victorian era did however include instructions for cooking nettles it in his Shilling Cookery for the People, published in 1854.”

So the British have been eating nettles for a long time, but never passed that tradition on to us in the colonies. With no knowledge of how to use them, it makes it harder for Australia
n cooks to try them.

And you should try them. You won’t find them in the markets here as you do in Europe, but with a few requests, you’re sure to find a greengrocer who can source them for you.