Cooking with nettles is not something new, and I have heard about it frequently over the years. However, I’ve never tried them before. In part, because I’ve been unsure how and when to harvest these little stingers, and, since having kids, have made every attempt to steer everyone well clear of them.
But…nothing ventured, nothing gained, so geared up with my marigolds and secateurs I set off to an undisturbed area of the farm where they grown in abundance. The trick, according to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, is to pick only the freshest growth, so the first 4-6 leaves on each spear. They should definitely be avoided after early April as they become coarse and hairy.
The taste is somewhat similar to spinach, and they can really be used as a replacement in any recipe that calls for spinach. As with most things eaten fresh and in season, their nutrient content is very high, so you should get stuck in.
The simplest way to enjoy these is as as side dish, wilted in hot water for a couple of mins, drained and then buttered. For a local, seasonal take on pesto, replace the usual basil with blanched nettle leaves, or try the more traditional nettle soup.