As much as I love pasta in all its forms, I am realizing that some of my most memorable dishes ever have been risotti. Two of those are dishes I created 10 and 20 years ago:
Last night we had a Nettle Risotto with Goat Cheese and Scallions, and a garnish of Lemon Confit. It was so good, I may have to add a 3rd candidate to my list.
My first encounter with stinging nettles was in San Francisco, at Rose Pistola in North Beach, probably in 2003. It was a risotto made by the Chef Armando Maes, known best as “Tiny”. He is a mountain of a man and a creative, passionate, and versatile chef. He also had a version with fettucine and ricotta.
This was a marvelous restaurant founded in 1996 by Reed Hearon, and named after a longtime North Beach resident, originally from Liguria. The restaurant closed in 2017.
After this first experience with nettles, I was fascinated. They are essentially weeds, with painful stickers if you touch them. Shortly after I ate them, I was able to buy packages of nettles at the farmers’ market at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco, and I then learned how to prepare and cook them myself. Back at home in Massachusetts, I was thrilled to find close friends nearby who harvested them for me from their own woods in the Spring.
Here is a very good description of the process for preparing nettles for culinary purposes. Nettle tea is also a valuable natural remedy for a number of ailments.
How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles
Now for my risotto; I found this recipe online from Il Buco:
I liked the recipe as written, but of course, I needed to add some of my own touches. First, I had been to Small Farm for my seedlings, and I also bought some terrific scallions, which I thought would go well in the dish.
Next, I saved the water used to cool the nettles after blanching them, and I used it instead of another broth to make the risotto.
There are several fine rices for risotto. My preference for this dish was Vialone Nano, rather than the two listed in the recipe.
The final touch was the addition of Lemon Confit, which delivers a jolt of acid and salt as a final touch. Here is the original recipe from Tom Colicchio from his cookbook, Think Like A Chef.
In these situations, nettles are often described as similar to spinach and Swiss Chard. Yes, they are in some ways, but I find them to be more flavorful and intense, in a satisfying way. If nettles are new to you, give them a try. They are available only in the Springtime, I think, so the season is almost over now. There’s always next year.
Wine? Ah, yes, of course. I had an open bottle in the refrigerator, a California-grown, Rhône-style white wine from Sans Liege, and it went very well with the dish.
But I was curious about other choices, so I opened a bottle of 2016 Clivi Brazan, a Friulano, made by my late friend, Ferdinado Zanusso, and I enjoyed that one, too. Salut!