Monday, May 5, 2008

Taste the Place: TableTalkPortland Loves Stinging Nettles!

This Saturday morning, instead of lolling about in bed drinking blood orange bellinis, eating pear crumb cake from Crema and watching Top Chef reruns (oh, that Chef Tom Colicchio is just so dreamy!) as usual, Jen and Michelle were at the PSU Portland Farmer's Market bright and early, wearing their fire-engine red volunteer aprons as they cooked and socialized up a storm at the Market's Taste The Place booth.

In case you didn't already know, the Taste The Place booth is on a mission to raise the profile of "underappreciated" produce in our community. What's underappreciated produce, you ask? In a nutshell, it's the smelly kid of the produce world. Take for example, stinging nettles, which was our featured underappreciated veggie this week. Who likes stinging nettles? Not many people, we learned, as one after another, passerby regaled us with tales of The Stinging Nettle That Viciously Attacked Their Legs/Arms/Pets/Children/Grandmother. One guy told us a very sad story about daring a buddy to roll around in a nettle patch for $5, and the ensuing pain and suffering his friend endured. We wore two pairs of gloves to handle our raw nettles after that.

That said, we won a lot of nettle converts Saturday morning. After tasting a sample of our "Sauteed Nettles with Green Garlic," people walked away praising the virtues of this fierce but goodhearted green, and we struck a blow for smelly-kid produce everywhere. Here is a wonderfully simple recipe that showcases nettles, which despite their prickly posturing, are one of the most nutritious greens you can eat, boasting the highest plant source of iron, even more than its positively prom-queenesque-in-comparison-cousin spinach. Nettles have also been used to help alleviate asthma, allergies, and arthritis. Not only is this recipe crazy-healthy, but it uses one of our favorite spring aromatics: green garlic. It will also impress your friends.

Sauteed Nettles with Green Garlic
4 cups uncooked stinging nettles, chopped coarsely (use gloves, perhaps even two pairs, to handle)
1 tbls olive oil
3 tbls chopped green garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Water as needed

Wash nettles, and leave water on the leaves, it will aid the cooking off of the stingers. Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, pour in oil, then add green garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Do not let the green garlic burn. Saute nettles, adding a little water as necessary to ensure that the stingers are wilting satisfactorially. Cook until stingers appear to have been vanquished. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a side dish, being sure to emphasize to your audience that you cooked STINGING NETTLES, so they think you are cool.

(DON'T forget to handle nettles carefully, a point which I will illustrate with a short but poignant cautionary tale. After bossing us all around regarding how to properly prepare the nettles, Michelle undercooked the last batch and then ate too many of our samples so her tongue swelled up for most of Saturday, which of course, was almost unbearably amusing to me, until she swiped me on the neck with a raw nettle twig and I got a rash. Appalling behavior. I hope she's banned from Taste the Place for 25 fortnights and then some.)

Next week's Taste the Place superstar is rhubarb. I'm glad, because as far as I know, rhubarb will not give you a neck rash if handled abusively.

My neck rash aside, it was a grand day at Farmer's Market. We were sure to watch the first Chef in the Market demonstration of the season--featuring esteemed Park Kitchen Executive Chef Scott Dolich, who made (drum roll please) Springwater Farm Nettle Soup! Amazing!

The audience was enthralled by Scott's effortless technique, dry witty banter, and the dancing 'n grinning routine his curly-haired little guy Mikey (in orange fleece pullover, sucking thumb) was doing in front of the demo booth.

Even Fife Executive Chef Marco Shaw (also in orange fleece, not sucking thumb) was hanging out, maybe to get tips for his May 24 demo at the Grazefest Farmer's Market?
(from the Portland Farmer's Market website)

Picked nettles 8 qts
Yellow onions, slivered 3 ea
Garlic, peeled whole 1 head
Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered 3 ea
Dry white wine 1 cup
Vegetable stock 2 qts
Olive oil 2 cups
Salt and pepper to taste


BE SURE TO WEAR GLOVES WHEN YOU PICK THE NETTLES. They don’t call them stinging nettles for nothing. Discard the nettle stalks. Blanch the nettle leaves briefly (10 seconds) in salted water, shock in ice water and squeeze the excess water out of them and reserve.

Sweat the onions and garlic in 3 Tbls of olive oil in a 6 qt sauté pan gently for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the wine and cook gently until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the potatoes, the vegetable stock and season liberally with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook till the potatoes are tender. Pull off the heat and cool completely. In batches, blend the potato mixture with the blanched nettles. While the mixture is spinning, emulsify the olive oil into it. Check for seasoning.

Heat the soup up in batches. Check for seasoning. Garnish can vary. Crab meat, shaved cheese and sliced ham all work well.

As Scott told the audience, you can turn a simple nettle soup "West Side" or "East Side," depending on the fat, stock, and garnish you choose. For example, you can veganize it to impress your East Side friends by using olive oil and veggie stock, and garnishing it with the head of a carnivore, whoops, I meant, some sort of aromatic oil, or for a "West Side" approach, you can swank it up with butter, chicken stock, a dollop of rich creamy sour cream blended with fromage blanc, and a fat pinch of fresh crab or savory ham. When asked by an audience member which side of the river he rolls on, Scott replied, "I'm a West Side guy." Me too. I mean, I'm a West Side girl, and thus, I had my soup sample with crab.

Anyhow, great job, Scott! We are incredibly excited to have our next Table For Twelve at Park Kitchen (mark your calendars, everyone...Wednesday, May 21 we'll be dining at Park Kitchen...stay tuned for the invite or let us know now if you want to join us)!


Portland Farmer's Market * * Saturdays 8:30 am to 3 pm * Come visit us at the Taste the Place booth every Saturday in May from 11 am to 2 pm and tell us how cute we look in our bright red aprons! Oh, and if you bring us Two Tarts cookies, Michelle won't hit you in the neck with a nettle!


  1. I did not see you at the market...Are the aprons for sale?

  2. Interesting that you did not see us at the market, perhaps because both times I texted you Saturday to come support Taste the Place and Underappreciated Produce, you were a)sleeping, or b)washing crepe and absinthe party dishes? Maybe next week.
    The aprons aren't for sale, but we'll trade you one for your little dog Gareth. Someone keeps stealing bikes out of the basement of my apartment building, and we could use a small but fierce sentry.