“Eat the Weeds”……..I’m certainly not the first person to use this phrase, nor to suggest that there is a bounty of free, nutritious greens growing right under our noses. After all if you have a productive vegetable garden, you need to keep on top of the weeds and instead of spraying them with poison or hoeing them in, if they’re edible then why not put them on the plate. So as the landscape greens up as winter closes in, many of these emerging and potentially invasive weeds have genuine culinary value. Take the sour sob for example, I would be surprised if most people growing up in South Australia, had not at some time tasted the lemony sourness of this pretty yellow weed. More properly known as Oxalis or by the fancier moniker of “wood sorrel” I have used its tangy sourness to give “zing” to variations on Salsa Verde and Sauce Gribache, especially with lambs tongue or brawn.
Next on the list of edible “nuisance” plants would have to be the Dandelion. Named in “Old French” for it’s leaves resemblance to a set of lions teeth or “Dente De Lion”, this plant is the root source for all modern chicory, endive and lettuces. Of course anyone that has eaten Dandelions will be familiar with their bitter digestif qualities, and also know that the tender young leaves are by far the best. Unfortunately though, in keeping with the French connection, and supporting its reputation as a diuretic, a salad of these young leaves is known as “Pissenlit” or literally “piss in bed” however in moderation with crispy bacon lardons and a good vinaigrette, they are delicious.
But that’s not all, right now there are literally a dozen other common “weeds”that can easily be found or foraged in my garden, from purslane and chick weed, to sow thistle, prickly lettuce and plantain. None of these have ever been intentionally cultivated nor purposely allowed to run to seed, (and just a quick note for chefs, restaurateurs and spin doctors out there, this is what foraged means, it doesn’t refer to things you have planted, or bought from a commercial source) but my all time favourite at this time of year are the really young nettles that are starting to carpet my veggie patch.
Yes we are talking about nasty, evil, stinging nettles, but I genuinely look forward to their emergence each year as they really are a delicious culinary herb, in fact more a vegetable than a weed. Not only do they clearly have the greenest flavor of all leafy vegetables, but they are packed with vitamins and minerals, almost certainly richer in iron than spinach and higher in protein than cabbage. At this early stage in their growth, their “stinging ability” is lessened, and they are tender and pure in flavor when compared with more mature plants, (cooking destroys or neutralizes the formic acid that provides the “sting” anyway, but it is still a good idea to wear gloves to pick them!) Importantly, when young, as part of this delicious risotto, and right now I can think of no better reason to keep on top of the weeds.
200g baby nettles – freshly picked
1/2 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock – well seasoned
2 cloves garlic – crushed
1¼ cups arborio rice
4 tablespoons Parmessan cheese – grated
- place nettles in a bowl and cover with cold water to rinse well, pinch out tips and leaves discarding stems (you should end up with about 120g nettle leaves)
- sprinkle nettles with salt and cover with boiling water, drain immediately and place in cold salted water, squeeze leaves gently, chop blanched nettles and reserve
- Melt half the butter and gently fry the onions without colouring, add garlic and sweat until fragrant but without colour.
- Add rice and stir through butter and onion mixture for a couple of minutes, rice grains should be coated with oil and appear whiter in colour
- Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed, then add half the hot stock and cook stirring constantly over a low heat until all the liquid is absorbed
- Continue to add stock as above one ladleful at a time until all 3/4 of the stock has been used, then stir through the chopped nettles.
- Add final portion of stock and cook until fully absorbed, stir in remaining butter and cheese, cover and keep warm for 10 minutes
- Serving with a little extra shaved Parmesan cheese.