Spring’s delicacies are unfolding at farms throughout Sonoma County and in backyards, fields, forests and meadows and alongside creeks.
From artichokes, wild mustard and not-exactly-wild asparagus — escapees from asparagus farms in Sebastopol in the 1940s — to miner’s lettuce, morel mushrooms, and, one of my favorites, nettles, it is an abundant time if you know where to look and if you shop at farmers markets.
Most of these spring treasures last at the most a few weeks.
Nettles are one of the great gifts of nature, as they contain protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium and micronutrients. Most of us know them as “stinging nettles” and avoid them when we are where they grow wild but these are the exact same nettles certain farmers sell at our farmers markets.
The stinging quality is tamed by heat, either in a hot pan with butter or olive oil, or in simmering water. It takes just seconds for them to wilt and by then they are harmless.
If you are feeling poorly — and several winter viruses are still circulating — heat 6 cups of water and when it boils plunge in 2 or 3 ounces of nettles. Cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let steep for 10 minutes. This is a simple nettle tisane; simply use tongs to remove the nettles and reserve them for another dish. Sip the tisane neat, warm or cold, or add a squeeze of lemon juice for enjoying it.
For more spring recipes from the Seasonal Patnry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
I make one version or another of this soup every spring. Sometimes I use French sorrel instead of spinach and occasionally I’ll top the soup with homemade nettle butter instead of yogurt. The parsley, however, is essential, as it keeps the colors vibrant. In this version, the spinach helps, too, but without them, the soup turns an unappetizing gray.
Spring Nettle Soup
Serves 4 to 6
6 ounces fresh nettles, blanched in salted water for 90 seconds
6 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small leek, white and pale green part only, cleaned and very thinly sliced
3 stalks green garlic, white part and 3-inches of green stems, cleaned and very thinly sliced
— Kosher salt
1 large potato, peeled and very thinly sliced
4 ounces young spinach leaves
11/2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
— Black pepper in a mill
— Whole Milk Yogurt
— Hawaiian Chile Water, optional
Carefully, without touching them, put the nettles into a stainless steel bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Using a large spoon or tongs to push the nettles down into the water, if necessary. Cover and set aside.
Pour the olive oil into a medium soup pot set over low heat, add the onion and cook until limp, about 7 minutes. Add the leek and green garlic, season with salt and cook until the leek and garlic are very tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown.
Add the potato, sauté for 90 seconds and season with salt.
Use tongs to transfer the wilted nettles to a clean work surface, squeezing out as much liquid as possible over the bowl before you do so. Pour the liquid into the soup pot, bring it to a boil, and simmer very gently for about 12 minutes.