Seasonal pantry: Cooked nettles, where art thy sting?

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On the second to the last Sunday of January, the first nettles appeared at the Sebastopol Farmers Market. They were offered by Triple T Farms of Santa Rosa, at $2 a bunch (about 2 ½ ounces) or $5 for three bunches. A single bunch is enough for potato-nettle soup, a six-egg frittata or one batch of nettle risotto.

The same day I got the nettles, the air was saturated with the promise of spring, a floral warmth at the center of winter’s chill. There’s more daylight than there was a month ago, and our local hens — the ones who live in small coops all over the county — have begun laying again. We are egg rich, or nearly so, and soon there will be other early spring treasures, the first asparagus, the first green garlic, artichokes, English peas and fresh favas.

When we eat seasonally, nature provides what we need at any specific time. In late summer, for example, watermelon cools us when we most need cooling. As winter evolves into spring, nettles serve as an early tonic that helps us shake off winter’s fog, whether it’s simply the sleepiness most of us feel on dark days or something worse, like a cold or flu.

Nettles are packed with nutrients, including vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, potassium and an array of micronutrients. If you are recovering from an illness, you can make a simple tonic of nettles by stirring the leaves into chicken stock, as described in the recipe for nettle risotto, and then sipping the warm stock, with or without a big squeeze of lemon juice. You can also, if you like congee (rice porridge), add nettles for a delicious and healthful boost.

Nettles grow wild throughout Sonoma County, typically along creek beds and similarly damp places. Be sure to protect your hands with gloves when you gather them and don’t use the ones that you find near a well-traveled road, as they will be saturated with exhaust fumes.


The late Nancy Skall of Middleton Gardens, who was a phenomenal farmer, used to take issue with my recipes for nettles. I always blanched them in boiling water and then discarded the water, which she felt was tossing out some of their valuable nutrients. Heat — either wet or dry — mitigates the stinging quality and that was how I always dealt with them. Here, I plunge the nettles into simmering chicken stock so nothing is lost. Every time I make this, I think of her and wish I would have been able to prepare it for her before she passed away.

Nettle Risotto

Makes 3 to 4 servings

4 cups homemade chicken stock

2 bunched (about 5 ounces) fresh nettles

4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 tablespoons butter

1 large or 2 medium shallots, minced

2 cups Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano or Carnaroli

— Kosher salt

¾ cup dry white wine

— Grated zest of 1 lemon

6 ounces mozzarella fresca, torn into small pieces

2 tablespoons creme fraiche

— Lemon wedges, for garnish

Pour the chicken stock into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.

Using gloves and a pair of kitchen shears, cut the nettle leaves and flowers, if any, off the branches. Discard the branches.

When the chicken stock begins to boil, reduce the heat so that it simmers. Still wearing gloves, drop the nettle leaves into the stock, simmer for 30 seconds and use tongs to transfer the leaves to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with its metal blade.

Add 2 cups of water to the stock and leave it on the heat.

Add half the parsley to the work bowl and pulse several times, until the nettles and parsley are puréed. Set aside.

Set a deep sauté pan, such as an All Clad saucier, over medium heat, add the butter and, when it is melted, sauté the shallots until they are soft and fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Do not let them brown.

Add the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until each grain turns milky white, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.

Add the white wine, stir and simmer until it is nearly completely absorbed by the rice.

Begin adding stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary. Continue for about 16 minutes, until the rice is almost but not quite tender. Add the nettle purée and the lemon zest and continue to cook, stirring all the while, until the rice is tender but not mushy.

Stir in the mozzarella and the creme fraiche, taste and correct for salt. Add the final bit of stock and remove from the heat.

Divide among individual soup plates, garnish with a lemon wedge and enjoy right away.


Nettles factor into this delicious spring soup in two ways, as a main ingredients and in the butter that is used to finish the soup. Use leftover nettle butter with roasted potatoes roasted asparagus, steamed peas, pasta or rice.

Nettle, Sorrel & Parsley Soup with Nettle Butter

Makes 4 to 6 servings

— Nettle Butter (recipe follows):

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 small leek, white and pale green part only, cleaned and very thinly sliced

— Kosher salt

1 medium potato, peeled and very thinly sliced

4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock

2 ounces fresh nettle leaves

6 ounces fresh sorrel, large stems removed, leaves sliced crosswise

1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves

— Black pepper in a mill

Make the nettle butter and chill it until ready to use.

Pour the olive oil into a medium soup pot set over low heat, add the onion and cook until limp, about 7 minutes. Add the leek, season with salt and cook until very tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown.

Add the potato, sauté for 90 seconds, season with salt. Pour in the tisane or stock, along with 2 cups of water. Increase the heat and when the liquid boils, reduce it so that it simmers gently. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.

Add the nettles, sorrel and parsley leaves and cook for 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender, taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

Ladle into soup plates. Working quickly, slice ¼-inch coins of nettle butter and set one in the center of each portion of soup. Enjoy right away.

Nettle Butter

Makes about 1/2 cup

— Kosher salt

1 ounce fresh nettle leaves

4 ounces butter, preferably local, at room temperature

— Zest of 1 lemon

— Black pepper in a mill

Fill a small saucepan two-thirds full with water, add a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

When the water boils, use tongs to drop the nettles into it, pushing until they are submerged. Simmer 30 seconds.

Drain, reserving the liquid for tea if you like, and let cool.

Put the nettle leaves into the work bowl of a food processor. Add a few pinches of salt, the butter, the lemon zest and several turns of black pepper and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the butter to a sheet of parchment or wax paper and roll it like a cylinder about 1 ¼-inches in diameter.

Store in the refrigerator and use within two to three days.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma.” Email her at

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