As a child, I once drove my little bicycle straight into a ‘hedge’ made up of tall stinging nettles and I can still feel the burn on my arms and face when I think about it. I don’t think there’s one person who has never felt the burn of a nettle and these fast-growing weeds are usually considered a real menace by garden-owners, shorts- or skirts wearing humans, and pets. But stinging nettles are not just an annoyingly painful weed! Young common nettles (urtica dioica) with soft leaves and stems are actually edible, quite nutritious and delicious – they kind of taste like spinach!
In Greece, they start selling nettles at the farmer’s market around the beginning of April, so they’re quite easy to come by (though the ones pictured were freshly picked by my boyfriend’s mother from her garden in Naxos). Back home in the Netherlands, I haven’t really seen fresh nettles being sold at markets, however, you can occasionally find dried nettle tea and cheeses flavoured with dried nettle. Of course, you don’t really have to buy nettles at the farmer’s market anyway since these quick growing weeds basically grow anywhere and you can go foraging for them and get them for free… perhaps you can even find them growing in your garden (don’t forget to wear gloves if you do!). Whichever way you find them, you can use my recipe below to make a hearty stinging nettle risotto with pine nuts.
For my stinging nettle risotto, you’ll need about two large (gloved) handfuls of fresh stinging nettles, some good-quality vegetable broth, Carnaroli rice and a bit of grated Pecorino Romano (you can use Parmigiano Reggiano if you don’t like the pungent saltiness of Pecorino). A generous sprinkling of toasted pine nuts on top add a welcoming soft crunch and extra earthy flavour, but you can use any nut you like. A simple, yet tasty dish and a great way to get your ‘revenge’ on those pesky weeds!
Stinging Nettle Risotto with Pine Nuts / Risotto alle Ortiche con Pinoli
- 200g fresh young stinging nettles
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 320g Carnaroli-, or Arborio rice
- 200ml dry white wine
- 1.3l good-quality vegetable broth (homemade is best)
- 40g butter
- 60g pecorino, freshly grated (alternatively use Parmigano Reggiano) + more to serve
- 40g pine nuts
- Salt, to taste
- To prepare the stinging nettles, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling add the stinging nettles for 2 – 3 minutes until the leaves and thin stems are tender, then remove from the pot and allow to cool until safe to touch. Once cool, finely chop the nettles and remove tough, thicker stems. [Don’t throw away the cooking liquid; you can use it in case you run out of vegetable broth before the rice is cooked and it’s also very nice to drink as a tea!]
- To prepare for the risotto, heat up the broth to a slow simmer and keep simmering during cooking the risotto. Finely chop the onion and grate the Pecorino.
- Add olive oil a high-rimmed pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the finely chopped onion. Sauté until translucent, then add the rice and toast it for a few minutes.
- Add the dry white wine to the pan and allow the alcohol to evaporate and rice to soak up the liquid whilst stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
- Once the wine has been absorbed, add a ladle of hot broth and stir almost continuously again until most of the broth is absorbed. Repeat procedure until almost all of the broth is added. Before adding the final ladle of broth, stir in the finely chopped nettles and allow to cook with the rice and the final scoop of broth. The whole procedure from the time you start adding the broth should take around 20 - 25 minutes (though you can continue adding broth or hot water if you like an even softer, creamier consistency).
- When the risotto is almost done, toast the pine nuts for a few minutes in a dry pan over medium-high heat until they start to brown slightly. Set aside until ready to serve.
- When your rice has reached your preferred consistency, remove the pan from the heat and vigorously stir in the grated pecorino and butter until the rice is glossy and creamy.
- Leave risotto to rest for a minute or two, then serve risotto with pine nuts sprinkled on top and some extra Pecorino grated over it if you like.