Spring was slow to start this year. The ground dry and dusty, trees reluctant to shoot out new leaves. Everything was waiting for rain. This past weekend I went foraging for the first time with the local mycological society. After a few years of wanting to join the club I finally did and I met a lot of interesting people.
It was a wet drizzly day, water streaming through the new young leaves of the forest and on to everyone’s heads as we hunted for morel mushrooms. The brush was thick in parts and full of prickly rose bushes and springy branches that whipped at you as you navigated through. We were all looking hard at the ground, poking through leaves searching for camouflaged edibles. The pickings were slim this year but I found my first morel quietly growing amongst dead leaves. I sliced it from the ground and had it identified. With mushrooms scarce I saw that stinging nettles were growing in a field, only a hand-span tall perfectly young and tender. I had never tried them before so with gloves I gathered a small quantity. As the name indicates stinging nettles have tiny hairs that will sting you if you touch them. One of the wiser and more experienced of the group members gave me some advice on them. She said that you only need to pick the top section of the plant containing the first four leaves. She demonstrated by grasping and plucking the plant with her bare hand saying that after a while of plucking nettles her hands grow numb. Her hands were a lot tougher than mine and I kept my gloves on. She told me to steam them to eat as a vegetable topped with vinegar and butter. When I got home a quick search showed a variety of ways to eat them including pasta, soups, gnocchi, spanikopita and more. Nettles are very high in vitamins, iron and fiber. For more information check out Hank’s post.
With a limited quantity of foraged edibles, one morel and some nettles, I cooked two forager’s meals, one for breakfast, one for lunch. The morel mushrooms must be cooked before being eaten, they will make you ill if consumed raw. Several members of the mycological society made sure to tell us to cook morels. To prepare the nettles I sorted through them with gloves for twigs grass, then washed them 3 times in a large sink of water. I separated the top section of the plant from the older leaves and stems (for an emerald green nettle soup). The nettles lose their sting when cooked, either by blanching in boiling salted water or by sauteing.
For the forager’s breakfast I decided upon soft scrambled eggs garnished with my prized morel and the tender tips of the nettles. The proper kind made with good butter cooked until creamy, not the dry rubbery sort or the slimy kind. With this breakfast timing is everything. I sauteed the morel in butter, setting it aside, then sauteed the nettle tops in more butter adding a splash of water mid way through cooking to help them along. I then cooked the eggs according to the Gordon Ramsay method, in a pot over medium heat. Served up the combination was excellent!
For the forager’s lunch I took the older leaves and tender stems and made a simple soup. In a medium pot I sauteed in the whites of spring onions in butter, adding a bay leaf and a pinch of dried thyme. Then I added one peeled and diced potato, some salt to taste, and water to cover. Simmer this uncovered until your potatoes are tender. Add the nettle leaves and stems, and the green parts of the spring onions, cook for 2 minutes then puree with a stick blender. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt or sour cream or cream, a drizzle of olive oil, a grind of black pepper, and sunflower seeds if you are so inclined.