I remember falling into nettles when I was a boy. It was terrible; I got stung all over and cried so much. I still wonder how a plant that can inflict so much pain so quickly can taste so good, but perhaps that’s just the way nature works. Either way, nettles are free, abundant in spring, easy to cook and incredibly good for you – they make an interesting alternative to spinach, kale or any one of our more familiar cultivated greens. Pick the top six to eight leaves, but use gloves – the sting won’t disappear until the nettles are cooked.
For The Pastry
200g (7oz) Plain Flour
100g (3.5oz) Unsalted butter
Good pinch of fine sea salt
About 75mm (2.25fl oz) chilled water
For The Filling
About 250g (9oz) nettle tops, leaves picked and washed
1 Handful of wild garlic leaves, if available
1 Good knob of unsalted butter
1 Onion, thinly sliced
100g (3.5oz) Hard sheep's or goat's cheese, grated
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 Egg yolks
200ml (7fl oz) Double cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4.
First, make the pastry. Pulse the flour, butter and salt in a food processor to the consistency of breadcrumbs. With the motor running, steadily add the water, stopping as soon as the dough comes together. Remove the dough, knead it a couple of times, then wrap it in parchment and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough to a thin round, large enough to line a 24cm (9½in) loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin, with an overhang. Prick the base, then line the pastry with baking parchment and baking beans. Bake ‘blind’ for about 20 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is dry and lightly colored. Remove from the oven and trim the overhang. Set aside.
To make the filling, blanch the nettle tops and wild garlic in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove and refresh in a large bowl of iced water, then drain the leaves and squeeze out the excess water. Roughly chop and set aside.
Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the onion, season with a touch of salt and pepper, and fry gently for 8–10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and lightly colored. Stir in the chopped nettles and wild garlic, and the cheese and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the filling into the tart case – try to avoid pressing it down too much, or the eggs and cream won’t find their way in.
In a bowl, combine the egg, egg yolks and cream to form a custard and season to taste. Pour the custard over the nettles, using a fork to tease the nettle filling into the custard and mingle it all up a bit.
Place the tart in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the custard is just set when you shake the tin. Allow to cool before serving. It’s much better that way.
Published by Quadrille Books