There are two main reasons why we are so excited about today’s recipe. First of all, it’s the star ingredient, courtesy of Mummy and Daddy’s precious find at the Farmers’ Market: nettles. Yes, you read it correctly, nettles – the stinging variety, to be more precise Daddy had never had cooked nettles before, but Mummy has fond memories of them from her childhood. She says their vivid green colour is the perfect sign that the lovely spring weather is about to make way for the long hot days of summer.
They can be rather fiddly to prepare, as the stalks can be rather hard and stringy (depending on the age of your plants), so you’ll have to remove all the leaves and then rinse them thoroughly in several changes of water. And whatever you do, please remember to wear thick kitchen gloves while you’re handling themJ
Nettles are very good for you due to their very high iron and vitamin content. But we also love them for their earthy flavour and the fact that they maintain their wonderful colour even when cooked J
To prepare nettles, start by bringing a large pot of salted water to the boil. In the mean time, put on a pair of kitchen gloves and trim the nettle leaves off the stalks. Rinse thoroughly in several changes of water, as they tend to be rather gritty, and we want to avoid giving our tart a sandy crunch…Drop the rinsed leaves in the boiling water, cover with a lid and boil for approximately 5 minutes. Tip into a large strainer or colander, rinse briefly under cold water to stop the cooking process, then squeeze out the excess liquid by pressing with a wooden spoon or spatula. Set aside ready to use in a dish of your choice.
And now for our next reason to be happy with this post – we have finally conquered our pastry making phobia!!! It’s not that we haven’t tried several guaranteed foolproof recipes before, but every attempt resulted in less than satisfactory results. Sometimes the texture just wasn’t right, or the dough wouldn’t come together, or it would just shrink too much during baking, etc.
So this time we decided to take a very radical approach and used some ingredients we had never tried before. That’s how we ended up with a wholemeal spelt and olive oil pastry case, which was wonderfully easy to roll and shape, it didn’t shrink at all during baking and it had a lovely flavour that complemented the green earthy filling. We have read that spelt flour can be rather temperamental in terms of the water quantity it may require, so we prepared for this by having ample chilled water available and then adding this gradually until the pastry attained the right texture.
Wholemeal Spelt Pastry
135 g wholemeal spelt flour
130 g all purpose flour
4 tbsp olive oil
4 – 5 tbsp cold water
Pinch of salt
Start by placing a small bowl with about ½ cup water in the freezer for a few minutes.
In the mean time, pulse the flours, salt and olive oil in a food processor until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Remove the water from the freezer and start adding one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition – in our case, this required about 5 tbsp of water. When the pastry comes together into a ball, remove it from the food processor, place on a lightly floured surface and shape into a square block. Cover the pastry tightly in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Remove from the fridge, then roll the pastry to the size of your tart tin, allowing for a little overhang. Firmly press the pastry into the edges of the tin, then fill with baking beads or uncooked beans or rice and bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.
Remove from the oven, empty the baking beads and set the tart tin aside ready for the filling.
For the Nettle Green Pea and Zucchini Tart filling you will need:
1 large bunch (approximately 500g) stinging nettles, prepared according to instructions above
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300 g fresh or frozen peas
300 quark, ricotta or cottage cheese
2 tbsp thick/heavy cream
1 ½ tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp mixed herbs, finely chopped (we used a mixture of sage, parsley, chives and mint)
2 tbsp olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 7 – 10 minutes, until the onion softens.
Add the sliced zucchini and frozen peas and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the cooked and drained nettles and chopped herbs, sprinkle the flour evenly over the entire mixture and stir gently to combine. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs, cream and quark in a separate bowl until combined, then pour this over the cooked vegetables. Mix well, then pour into the prepared tart case.
Bake at 170 degrees for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the filling is set. Serves 6 – 8.