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May 10, 2013

Grazing: Sautéed Nettles With Butter and Garlic

I live in a 1790s farmhouse that's been converted into condos, and my neighbors and I are surrounded by the verdant remnants of a working farm. Around this time of year, the disturbed patches in our fields and around the barn burst into a riot of weeds, with stinging nettles among the first to rear their deep-green leaves.

Nettles_groundFor years, I cursed and spat as I accidentally brushed my legs against these invisibly prickly shrubs or absentmindedly tried to pull one out with my bare hands. During a party a few years ago, the host handed me a bowl of wilted, spindly greens. "Nettles. Try them," he said. Dubious, I picked one up with my fingers and studied it before taking a nibble. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil, these enemies of countless gardening sessions had been transformed into something velvety and almost luscious, their sting magically gone. 

The fields looked different after that. If you've never hunted nettles before (actually, they're not hard to find), these clusters of deep-green leaves have serrated edges and veiny tops, and grow from calf-high shrubs. They're best when they're young and tender, still less than an inch long. You can either don garden gloves to pick them or (as I eventually learned) pluck them directly from above; something about that angle prevents their leaves from gittin' ya with their stinging hairs.

In the kitchen, I blanch them quickly to rinse them of dirt and render their hairs docile. Then I heat some butter and minced garlic in a pan, toss in the nettles, and voilà —just a few minutes of cooking renders them wilted. Silky, nutty, creamy — all of these describe delicious sautéed nettles. And — this is a big "and" — nettles are stuffed with iron, teeming with vitamin A (more than almost any other green) and dense with vitamin K (no, not ketamine).

Sauteed_nettlesNettles Sautéed With Butter and Garlic

Makes one small side serving — a snack?

A few fistfuls of nettles (harvest with gloves)
Pat of butter
One garlic clove, minced
Dash of really good salt 

Be careful picking nettles; wear gloves. Once they're safely inside, bring a pot of water to a boil and, using tongs or a glove, blanch nettles and drain. Rinse with cold water and squeeze out excess moisture.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt a healthy pat of butter until it bubbles. Throw in garlic and swirl, then immediately add blanched nettles. Toss to coat with butter and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and serve. (Send me a note if you're a convert: [email protected].)

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