Saturday, June 07, 2008

Nettle Harvest

It's time to wild harvest comfrey and nettle, as it's growing everywhere around the city and beginning to go to seed! When wild harvesting remember to harvest carefully, in dog-free areas, where you are sure no pesticide has been sprayed or the plants are not contaminated by any other source. Harvest only 1/3 of the area, so as not to deplete the abundance for next year. To harvest nettle, wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves as the tiny hair will sting if brushed against your skin. This stinging is actually reputed to be beneficial and used for therapeutic purposes, increasing the body's circulation and aiding ailments such as arthritis. Feel free to experiment, but touch carefully and slowly! (For harvesting, I prefer to wear gloves).

We grow nettle intentionally at the back of our property (away from neighbours), even though it can be invasive and spread quickly within a season. We feed it to the chickens to strengthen their eggshells, and use it in our compost as an excellent source of nitrogen or for making a compost tea. It is rich in calcium and iron, and very tasty in soups (traditionally made into a cream of nettle soup), steamed, or dried/fresh as tea, and also nice as a spinach replacement in our annual "nettlekopita". Here's our recipe - I'm making this for dinner with fresh nettle just harvested:

Nettlekopita (aka Spanikopita - adapted from the original Moosewood Cookbook)
- serves 8

2 cups crumbled feta (we use local goat feta)
2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
5 eggs (as fresh as possible)
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 Tbsp fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried)
salt & pepper to taste
2 lbs nettle, dandelion greens, spinach or combination
1 pkg defrosted phyllo dough (or alternate variation, make calzones with pizza dough)

1) Clean, stem and chop the greens. Salt lightly and cook, adding no water, for about 5 min.
2) Cook onions in butter/margarine, salting lightly. When soft, combine with remaining ingredients and the cooked greens.

To assemble:
3) Spread melted butter/margarine on 9x13 pan. Place a phyllo leaf in the pan and brush with more oil/marg/butter. Keep layers of dough coming, one on top of another, brushing each layer. When you have a pile of 8 sheets, spread half the filling ontop.
4) Continue with another 8 sheets, then apply the remaining filling, spreading it to the edges. Fold the excess phyllo dough down along the edges, making little tidy corners.
5) Pile as many more sheets of phyllo and butter/margarine as your baking pan will hold. Oil/butter the top layer.
6) Bake uncovered at 350F for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.

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