Nettles Are Nummy

It may be a weed, but this spring ingredient is sprouting up around the city

Franny's nettles and spinach pasta
This seasonal pasta from Franny's features spring spinach and nettles. (Photo: Franny's)

June 29, 2017

While you might think of “sting” when you think of nettles, you should be thinking “spring.”

Nettles, a peppery, herbaceous plant (considered a weed by many) are one of Mother Nature’s delicious (and nutritious) harbingers of spring. Right on schedule, nettle dishes are starting to pop up all over the city. Have no fear about nettles’ infamous stinging property: Once cooked, the sting vanishes.

Francine Stephens of the perennially popular Franny’s in Brooklyn told us: “We love nettles because they offer a distinctly grassy, fresh flavor that is unique to springtime. Our guests love them, as their presence on our menu is the true first offering of spring.” Scoot over to the restaurant ASAP to try them in two dishes: a savory ramp and nettle zeppole ($12) with Calabrian chili honey and maccheroni pasta with spinach, nettles, garlic, chilies and pine nuts ($19).

Bien Cuit's Nettle loaf
The nettle loaf from Bien Cuit.

At Bien Cuit, master baker Zachary Golper blanches nettles, then dries and grinds them and reserves the cooking water. He uses the water to hydrate dough made with flour from New York State-grown wheat from North Country Farms and goat’s milk from Coach Farms. After slow, cold fermentation and shaping, he rolls the loaves in the dehydrated nettle powder and bakes them into gorgeously crusty loaves ($6 each) that are at once vegetal and tangy.

Chef Simone Bonelli of La Pecora Bianca, incorporates nettle pesto into a seasonal risotto with goat cheese and orange ($23). Over at Vic’s in NoHo, chef Hilary Sterling is serving a razor clam pizza with charred nettles ($20).

Besides being delicious, nettles are fiber-rich, packed with iron and vitamins C, D and K and have been shown to have a natural anti-inflammatory, antihistamine effect that can help with allergies like hay fever.

If you want to try your hand at using nettles at home, keep your eyes peeled for the nettles (they have dark green heart-shaped leaves and fuzzy bristles) at your local Greenmarket. Currently, Phillips Farm, Paffenroth Gardens, Hawthorne Valley and Monkshood Nursery are are selling nettles. To check if nettles are at the Union Square Greenmarket use this nifty app; it tells you everything that is in the market each day it is open or the last time it was available and from whom.

Do yourself a favor and use the gloves or tongs provided, or else you will really understand why the plant’s full name is the stinging nettle. Prepare the peppery green in a nourishing soup, fold them into an omelet or brew them into a fresh tea.