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Nettles, cheese, puff pastry - recipe

PUBLISHED: 16:36 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:43 03 May 2016

Archant

April is one of the best months to enjoy eating nettles, says River Cottage head chef, Gill Meller

When I was seven we moved from the town to the countryside, close to the village of Powerstock. Our house was bang next door to a sheep farm run by Mr Legg, who drove a very old red tractor. Mr Legg was to be avoided at all costs.

My brother and I spent hours knocking about the farm - building dens in the hay barn, making traps, vaulting the scary sheep dip, exploring new ways to use nettles as weapons and generally being as mischievous as possible without actually hospitalising ourselves, or anyone else we were with.

Most of our plots included how to effectively lasso a sheep in order to harness its energy for pulling us along on a bike or skateboard! Our time on the farm gave me a real appreciation of the countryside, the landscape and everything that’s in it, including sheep and nettles.

This flavour packed tart recipe reminds me of those happy days. It’s a great combination of flaky puff pastry, earthy irony nettles and delicious sheep’s cheese.

April is one of the best months to pick nettles, while they are still very young and tender. Take only the top four or six leaves of each plant. You’ll need some gloves for picking and washing them but their sting disappears as soon as you drop them in the hot water. This tart is a great way to enjoy them.


Ingredients (serves 3-4)

• About 175g young nettle tops (1 heaped colander full)

• A little polenta or cornmeal for dusting (optional)

• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to finish

• 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

• Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

• 1 ready-rolled puff pastry sheet, about 200g, or roughly the same weight of block puff pastry

• 50g semi-soft sheep’s or goat’s cheese

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Method

1 Put the nettle tops in a sink full of cold water and wash thoroughly, picking them over to remove any unwanted plant matter or insect life. Transfer to a colander. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the nettle tops, prodding them down with a wooden spoon. Once simmering again, cook for 4–5 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander and leave to cool.

2 Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Scatter a baking sheet with polenta, or grease it lightly with oil if you prefer.

3 Use your hand to squeeze all the liquid out of the drained nettles. Put them on a board and chop coarsely, then transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, a light grating of nutmeg if you like, and some salt and pepper. Mix well with a fork, working the seasoning into the nettles.

4 Lay your ready-rolled pastry sheet on the prepared baking tray. If using a block of pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface until about 5mm thick, trim the edges to straighten, then transfer to the tray. Spread the nettle mixture over the pastry, leaving a 1–2cm clear border at the edge. Crumble over the cheese. Bake for 20–25 minutes until the pastry edges are puffed and golden.

5 Trickle the tart generously with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then serve.


Recipe from Hugh’s Three Good Things published by Bloomsbury Publishing plc, and available from rivercottage.net.

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