in praise of weeds

One of my favourite cookbooks is Janni Kyritsis Wild Weed Pie, written in collaboration with Janni’s friend Roberta Muir. This a rare book generous with knowledge sharing and recipes perfectly written that work. Janni’s recipe for a ‘wild weed pie’ remains a favourite. Wild Weed Pie is currently out of print but there are still many copies available on line, however, it is best to search widely because the price varies enormously, the most expensive being Amazon.

When living in the tiny Greek village of Kardamilli in the Peleponnese, in 1997, wild weeds were in abundance. Wild onions, nettles, sage, rocket, thyme, all sorts of wild spinach, succulents and much more including prickly pears. They were commonly interwoven into the local cuisine. 

Wild the variety of weeds is somewhat less at home in Australia, thanks to successive migrations there is still plenty to choose from. Nettles in particular and also mallows though I have never seen mallows for sale. Harvest from the backroads where they will not have been sprayed and always wash well. 

Mallows, in case you’ve never cooked them are most common in the Middle Eastern and Greek kitchens. They are boiled in boiling salted water with a big splash of EVO, well drained and served still slightly warm or at room temperature with more EVO and lemon wedges…adding a little chopped red onion is traditional with chicory and also works well with mallows. 

AO 22 AUGUST 2020

preparing the nettles for
the puree

The first thing that anyone needs to know about nettles [or for that matter most wild greens and herbs] is that they need to be very carefully washed or regardless of what you make you’ll be turfing it into the compost because munching your way through grit is disgusting.

Start with taking a bucket filled with cold water and holding the nettles by the root end, shake them around at the top of the water and then wash them again under running cold water. De-stalk them very carefully. Put an egg ring in the bottom of a bucket and three quarters fill it with cold water. Find a colander that will fit firmly in the bucket. Put the colander in place add the picked nettles and swish them around under the water. Set a time for 15 minutes. When the timer goes carefully life it from the bucket and drain. Check the bottom of the bucket for dirt. If there has been no dirt dropped to the bottom you’ve done your job and can proceed with the recipe. Otherwise, wash again under cold running water and repeat.

Bunch sizes at commercial fruit and vegetable shops vary greatly. I suspect that many take the generous growers’ bunches and split them into three. The rough calculation when working out how much you need is that you’ll probably get about 20% useful from the total weight. A bit like broad beans, you’re not left with much. If you’ve found a wild spot chuck you scale in your car.

For other ideas for using nettles click here

how to
make the purée

Set a large pot of water on high heat, add a generous amount of salt and a good splash of EVO. Set up an ice bath……this is used to arrest the cooking process. When the water is at a good rolling boil add the washed nettle leaves, stir them around, let them come back to the boil, scoop out, draining as much water as possible and drop them into the ice bath and push them under. When they are completely cold drain, rinse under cold water and then squeeze out as much water as possible.

nettle gnocchiletti

"

perfect texture

quite a bit
of work

300g blanched and squeezed nettles
1 x whole 61g egg
1 egg yolk [61g egg]
¼ small nutmeg, freshly ground
5g fine sea salt
180g bakers flour
30g white polenta or 30g fine yellow polenta

30g sea salt
30g EVO + a splash
at least 1L ice

50 EVO

Weigh the nettles into a Thermomix, add the whole egg and the egg yolk and puree; then weigh in the remaining ingredients to the line. Combine, scraping down the sides a couple of times.

Scrape into a bowl and rest for at least 15 minutes.

The next step can be done using a spaetzle board or you can equally use a small chopping board and a bowl scraper.

Put a pot of water on high heat and add the 30g salt and EVO and bring it to the boil. Put the ice into a large bowl add a splash of EVO and 1L cold water. When the water is at a good rolling boil.

Working in batches, scrape pieces of the dough about 1/3 the size of a gnocchi into the water. Let them rise to the top, cook for one minute, then scoop them out with a wire scoop into to ice water. Repeat until everything has been cooked and they are cold.

Put the last 50g EVO into a bowl. Carefully drain the gnocchiletti and pick out any remaining ice, then roll them through the EVO to stop them from sticking together.

Although we haven’t done it, we are certain this mix could be rolled and shaped like gnocchi.

The squeezed purée freezes very well as do the gnocchiletti

other uses for nettle purée

  • Makes great bright green blini by adding an egg and some self-raising flour [seasoning of course] fried in clarified butter topped with smoked salmon, sour cream and seaweed pearls, or caviar!
  • Take an egg out of your favourite pasta recipe and add the same weight as the egg in nettle purée.
  • Make a mash potato ripple, very funky!
  • Great with fish as a sauce. Add a little fish stock and knock in some butter…crispy skinned fish, lemon wedge

IMPROVISING

USING A
WOODEN SPATULA
IN PLACE OF
A SPAETZLE BOARD

THE DOUGH

PUT A MANAGABLE
AMOUNT OF DOUGH
AT THE EDGE AND CUT SMALL PIECES
INTO THE WATER

A STABLE DOUGH

LET THEM RISE TO THE TOP
COOK FOR 1 MINUTE
LIFT FROM THE WATER
DRAIN AND DROP INTO
THE ICE BATH