With the surrounding landscapes coming to life in Maine, we are always looking out for one of our favorite spring time harvests, Nettle! As these first green shoots start to emerge, I can't help but think back to a pleasant Nettle encounter in an unexpected place on a previous van adventure.
It was February of 2021, and at this time we had no idea a pandemic was knocking at our door. Dominic and I were steaming north in Charlie (our van) from Baja to Whistler and taking our time along the way to try and take in all of the treasures the pacific coast has to offer. After leaving a week long adventure in Yosemite we decided to drive over to checkout Redwood National Park. We arrived outside the park in the evening and found a windy BLM road just back from the coast to settle in with the van for the night. When we woke in the morning we were surprised to see that we had a beautiful view of the coast and the entire side of the road was popping with fresh green Nettle shoots no more than 8 inches tall.
It was surprising to see the Nettles. As we’re accustomed to seeing these beauties in late April but here we were far from home and seeing them in Mid February. “Perfect timing” I thought to myself. With the shoots only 8 inches it was the just the moment to harvest the young shoots. For this is when we most enjoy their texture and flavor for culinary use.
We luckily had some gloves with dexterity so we harvested a few handfuls of Nettle tops making sure to leave some of the lower leaves so they could re-sprout. Semi-distracted by our day ahead in Redwood, we put the nettles in the cooler and headed towards the park to check out some of the largest organisms on the planet.
As the afternoon wore on, we were pretty tired from checking out massive flora and fauna and thought we’d head to the coast to see what the surf was up to. Unfortunately the surf didn't catch our vibe but we found a scenic little spot all to ourselves. Dom knew we had some pasta and fresh shiitakes and we thought what a great way to incorporate the nettles we had harvested that morning. If you're wondering, Nettles have a very full flavor and are a great addition to many dishes. You can basically use them anywhere you would use spinach but with nettles you need to make sure that you saute or blanch them to deactivate their stinging aspect. No one wants a mouth full of nettles that are still in stinging mode.
Back to the meal. Dominic is a really good cook and with the sun setting in the distance she whipped up an amazing pasta dish on the road with wild nettles just harvested. I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy the end of a great day full of adventure. And to top it off the waves got really good the next day.
Here’s a flashback to the nettle mushroom pasta recipe we made that evening on the coast of northern california.
Fresh pasta with Butter-Braised Nettles & shiitakes
12 oz. (375 g) stinging nettles
Fine sea salt
2 Tbs. Salted butter
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of shiitake
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small fresh hot chile, minced, or a generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb. (500 g) of pasta (pasta for 4 persons)
3/4 cup (3 oz./90 g) grated pecorino romano cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Wearing gloves to prevent stinging, cut the tough stems off the nettles and rinse well. Using the gloves or tongs, place in the boiling water and blanch until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and let cool, then chop coarsely. Fill the pot with fresh water, salt generously and bring to a boil.
While the water is heating, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the garlic, shiitake and chile and stir to coat with the fat. There are a few ways to cook shiitake mushrooms, but the best way we’ve found is to sauté them. Sautéed shiitakes take about 10 minutes and results in an crazy amount of savory, delicious flavor! Reduce and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes and until the shiitake get a nice sautéed look. Add the nettles and 1 tsp. salt. Using tongs, toss the greens to coat well. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes or according to the package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the pan with the greens and toss well to combine. Add a splash or two of a nice olive oil over the dish. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pasta and toss again.
Divide among 4 shallow bowls, garnish each serving with some of the remaining cheese, serve immediately, and enjoy! And don’t forget to take a photo — we’d love to see your beautiful creation! Share it on Facebook or Instagram and tag us @FreshPickins.