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.
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.
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