I love to eat nettles – to my way of thinking, they’re one of the most underused free ingredients that we have access to all year round. If you like spinach, there’s no reason for you to be pulling up nettles from your garden to put on the compost heap. If you have a patch where nettles like to grow in your garden, just regularly trim them back to the ground to encourage new, tender shoots to appear. These are the ones that you need to cook with. Nettles are edible at any stage of their growth, but once they have flowered the taste can be bitter and they’re a bit stringy so it’s best to look beneath the flowering nettles for the new ones that are just coming up.
Nettles only sting you while you’re collecting them, so use rubber gloves. The sting disappears the moment the nettle comes into contact with heat, so there’s no danger of you stinging your mouth! Give the nettles a good wash when you get them into the kitchen, like you would with spinach, give them a quick shake and then steam them with the washing water still clinging to them.
These pasties are perfect picnic food, especially if you make the small ones. The nettles can be replaced with spinach or chard leaves and the pine nuts can be replaced with any nut that you have to hand, or be left out completely.
Makes 3 large or 15 small pasties
You need to collect 250g of nettles for this recipe, which is a good half a carrier bag full. If you find you haven’t got enough when you get home, you can either go hunting in your own back garden or add some spinach or watercress leaves. Only pick the tops of nettles that aren’t flowering – the first 3 or 4 leaves. Use rubber gloves!
Do what you normally do for pastry – either buy 2 blocks ready-made, or if making from scratch, make an amount using 250g plain flour.
For the filling:
250g nettle tops/spinach/chard, thoroughly washed and put into a colander to drain
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ pack of feta cheese, crumbled
A handful of pine nuts toasted (you could use toasted, chopped hazelnuts or cashews if you haven’t got any pine nuts)
A pinch of nutmeg (optional)
A squeeze of lemon
1 egg beaten
Salt and black pepper
Make the pastry if making from scratch, or get the ready-made pastry out of the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper.
For the filling: using scissors, chop the nettles roughly and then tip them into a large saucepan with just the water that is still clinging to the leaves.
Turn the heat to high and leave the nettles to wilt in the small amount of water that is in there. If the nettles are dry, just add a tiny splash of water. This will only take a couple of minutes. Leave to cool.
Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.
Squeeze as much water as possible from the cooled, cooked nettles (the sting will have completely disappeared by now) and add them to the onion. Mix well and leave to cool.
Tip the cooled mixture into a bowl and add the crumbled cheese, chopped nuts or pinenuts, nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon juice and some black pepper. Taste for seasoning, don’t forget feta is salty anyway. Add salt if needed. Mix together thoroughly with ¾ of the egg (leave the rest for glazing the top of the pasties).
Roll the pastry out until about as thick as a 2p piece. Cut either into 3 large circles or squares or 15 smaller circles or squares, depending on what size pasty you want to make.
Mix the leftover egg with a little milk or water and moisten the edges of the first cut out pastry with it.
Using a teaspoon, place the filling on one half of the pastry (don’t overfill or the pastie will burst during cooking)
Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together to seal. Place on the baking tray.
Repeat until all of the pastry and/or filling is used up.
Brush with any remaining egg mixture and bake until golden brown – approximately 10-15 minutes for small pasties and 25-30 for large pasties