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Stinging nettles are in season. Here's what to do with them

Stinging nettles are in season. Here's what to do with them
Fresh nettles at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. (Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

What's in season: Because of the cold, rainy spells we've been having lately, there are fantastic bunches of nettles showing up at many farmers market stalls — and they'll be around as long as it stays cool and damp. Startlingly green and invitingly pretty, nettles can sting — hence the plastic bags and tongs some farmers include near the baskets — and were often pulled as unwanted weeds before chefs started putting them on their menus. The sting of stinging nettles comes from the fine, hollow hair-like trichomes on both the leaves and stems of this perennial plant, but it's easy to tame with a quick blanch or sauté. Pea tendrils are also showing up, along with more baskets of winter greens.

What's just left: Pears are on their way out for the season.

What's on the horizon: Beans are working their way in, with vibrant peas and delicate pea tendrils showing up. Now is also a good time to look for fresh dried beans.

What to cook: Nettles are great to add to pastas, frittatas, omelets and polenta. To lose the sting, blanch a few handfuls of the leaves in a pot of boiling water for just a minute or so, then drain and set aside. For polenta, bring another pot of water to a boil, whisking in a little salt and olive oil, then cornmeal. Slowly simmer the polenta until it is thick and creamy, then fold in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little crème fraîche and nettles for a lovely, satisfying dish.

NETTLE POLENTA

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Total time: About 30 minutes | Serves 6

Note: Stinging nettles are available at many local farmers markets. When handling the nettles, wear latex or exam gloves; rinse them in a sink full of cold water to remove any dirt. Carefully remove the leaves from the stalks.

4 cups washed nettle leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup polenta, or organic coarse-ground cornmeal
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and, using a pair of tongs or rubber gloves, add the nettles to the pot. Blanch the nettles for about 1 minute. Drain, coarsely chop and reserve.

2. In a heavy-bottomed medium pot, bring 5 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt and olive oil, then slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the polenta cooks at a low simmer (bubbling slightly). Stir frequently until thick and creamy, about 17 to 20 minutes.

4. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, crème fraîche and nettles, whisking until combined. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

Each serving: 233 calories; 14 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 304 mg cholesterol; 430 mg sodium.

Love cooking as much as I do? Follow me @noellecarter

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