For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention stinging nettles is ‘ouch’, ‘yuck’ or ‘weeds’. This is exactly what some tourists, pulled up at our farm checking out the statue below, said when I told them I was going foraging for nettles to make a pie.
Unlike the slightly disturbed tourists, my mind skips straight to the health benefits and different ways to prepare them when someone mentions stinging nettles. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a Nettle and Spinach Spanakopita recipe which piqued my interest because I had a huge patch of nettles growing on one of our family farms. This year after a lot of unseasonal winter rain, we once again have a huge ‘crop’ of nettles so I decided it was time to revisit nettle pie.
I learnt as a very little girl on my grandparents farm that you do not mess with stinging nettles! The same still applies today, so when foraging for them you have to be extremely careful. I recommend wearing thick gloves, a long sleeved shirt and jeans to avoid falling victim to their nasty sting. Nettles also take a little more preparation to remove their sting but given that they are free and contain some important vitamins and minerals, I think it is worth a little extra effort.
On that note, stinging nettles contain high levels of iron, calcium, vitamin A, K as well as pro-vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K1 and vitamin c which aid in the absorption of iron and calcium. Given their relatively low calorie count (~37 calories per cup of blanched leaves), nettles are definitely a fantastic, free and highly nutritional addition to most diets*.
Now to the recipe. This free-form pie combines my favourite sour-cream pastry with plenty of greens and a good dose of feta to create a comforting but healthy side or vegetarian lunch option. You can really add any vegetables languishing in your crisper, much the same way as you would for a quiche. The seasoning and herbs are also open to your interpretation, a little garlic would be lovely as would some dill or mint. This recipe is a combination of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Nettle Spanakopita and Lyndey Milan’s Sour Cream Pastry recipe from the Winter edition of Selector Food & Wine magazine, thanks to them for the inspiration!
Not-so-Nasty Nettle Pie
- 300g nettles
- 1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 large mushrooms, diced
- 1/2 zucchini, grated
- 100g spinach
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 100g fetta, crumbled
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 100g cold butter
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- Whisk flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Work butter into the flour with your fingers until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.
- Mix in sour cream with a fork and work the mixture into a disc. Cover in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius and set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
- Blanche the nettles in boiling water (for 2 to 3 mins) to remove their sting then refresh in ice water. Use a colander to drain and then squeeze excess water from nettles – this is crucial, too much moisture will stop the pastry from crisping up. Add them to a large bowl.
- In a skillet heat 1tbsp olive oil and sauté onion. When it starts to take colour add mushrooms and zucchini then season with thyme, salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes before adding spinach, cook until slightly wilted.
- Combine onion mix with nettles then fold in fetta and eggs.
- Roll out pastry on a piece of baking paper into a rough circle approximately 40cm in diameter. Pile the filling into the centre of the pastry then fold up edges. Transfer baking paper with the pie to a sheet pan.
- Reduce the temperature to 180 degrees celsius. Bake in the oven for 35-40mins or until pastry has browned and filling is cooked. Serve warm from the oven or save it for later and enjoy cold.
- Always use gloves or tongs to handle the stinging nettles, they do sting and it is not nice.
- Make sure you remove as much of the water from the nettles as possible, the drier the mixture the better your crust will turn out. Preparing them ahead of time will help with this as they will have more time to drain.
*If you have a medical condition (for example diabetes) or are on blood thinning medication such as warfarin, you should check with your doctor before eating nettles or drinking nettle tea as they may have a negative impact on your condition or medication.