#157: Nettles: A Gift of Spring
A recipe for Spring Clean Out the Fridge Casserole.
Stinging nettles,(Urtica dioica), oh, how I love them. Although, I do not love the sting one gets if skin touches the hairy leaves when harvesting or before they are cooked. From personal experience, I can definitely confirm that there is a reason “stinging” is part of their name. Over years of spring foraging for this plant that has been used for centuries by herbalists, I have learned what is required to help avoid that inconvenient sting.1
Long sleeves and pants✔️
Scissors or clippers ✔️
A big paper bag ✔️
I was overjoyed when presented with a big bag of fresh just picked young nettles for my birthday last week.
How to use nettles?
In Art of the Pie, I included a recipe for Sausage and Nettle Pie. With this batch I decided to make a version of it sans crust…basically turning it into a casserole of sorts. I had no Italian sausage on hand and was just about to head to the store to buy some when I remembered the package of firm tofu I had bought a few days before. I opened the fridge door and wondered…Hmmmm…could I make this with tofu? Heck why not! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So, I gave it a try and you know what? It was great!
Here’s the recipe I came up with plus lots of pics of the process, too.
SPRING CLEAN OUT THE FRIDGE CASSEROLE WITH NETTLES & TOFU
Pick some nettles…maybe 20 ounces or so…enough to fully pack a produce size bag. It may look like a lot but they will cook down.
Set a big pot of water on the stove and when it is at a rolling bowl, take tongs and carefully transfer the nettles into the water to blanch for 30-60 seconds. Do this in batches. After each batch has this hot bath, place them a bowl of cold water.
Save the blanching water and drink it as a spring tonic. It can be saved it in the fridge for a week. Making ice cubes from the nettle water might be an addition to drinks. That goes on my must try list.
Place the cooled nettles in a big sieve strainer and press out as much liquid as possible with a flexible spatula or even a potato masher. Transfer the nettles to a dry tea towel and dry them off more.
The last step in preparing them is to pick off the leaves from the stems. Yes, it takes time but the distinct green flavor is worth the effort.
Now it gets easy. Really!
Slice the tofu into 7 or 8 big chunks and sauté in butter, 3 minutes per side over medium low heat until golden brown.
Stack on a cutting board.
Look in your fridge and see what else you have in the veggie drawer. I had mushrooms, a leek, a quarter cabbage. Slice up everything. Chop up a few cloves of garlic, too. Put everything into the cast iron fry pan with an extra pat or two of butter or glug of olive oil. Add about a tablespoon of seasoning of your choice…Herbs des Province is a fav here…Italian seasoning would be nice, too. Cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, a squeeze of half a lemon (about 2 teaspoons) and cook a few minutes more. If you like red pepper flakes, add 1/8 teaspoon of that. I added a few gratings of fresh nutmeg, too.
Now stir in the sautéed tofu pieces.
Transfer everything to an oven-proof baking dish.
Whisk 4 or 5 large eggs in a bowl and pour over the top. Grate and sprinkle whatever kind of cheese you have on hand over the top, too.
Bake in a moderate oven (about 350F) for 35-45 minutes until the cheese it melted and bubbly.
If you don’t have nettles, no worries! Make it with spinach or whatever greens you have on hand.
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