Nettles and more…..

January and February in Gozo means green lush valleys filled with loads of interesting stuff ready to be picked. Blue skies and crisp cold breezes fill our sunny days. Foraging is my number one past time.

I have found out that the islanders used to forage for wild plants to use as medicine. Borage was used for coughs, nettles as a blood tonic and a cure for sore chapped hands in winter. I have no recollection of hearing about foraging wild plants for food. It was long before medicinal use, that they were also used for cooking.

During one of my cooking classes, one of the guys attending remarked about a comment his mother made. She asked him: "how old is your teacher? She must really be an old lady if she uses Borage and nettles in her cooking". His mum is in her late 70s and only remembers her mother talking about her great grand mother using them in her cooking. That makes me about 150 years old!

It is amazing how quickly traditions fade away. Recipes lost long ago.  Scribbled notes with remarks on family recipes now lost. Where is all our food heritage gone? Where are our ‘old’ foodies and their special recipes? I must keep exploring.

My late Aunty Mary mentioned once that her Sicilian friends foraged for wild spinach. She showed me what it looked like…I remember we were in Naxxar in Malta. From then on, it became a bit of an addiction….

And 7 years later am still foraging. It becomes a bit of an addiction. ‘Foraging fever’ I would call it.  I have a pair of Marigolds and a plastic bag in my car…always on standby. Gozo is a fantastic place to pick-your-own food. It’s just there, waiting to be taken home and turned into something delicious.

Nettles, Spinach, Fennel, Borage, edible flowers, Capers, Prickly Pears, Asparagus.

Just help yourself! How wonderful. But bear in mind a few simple rules, so that this harvest can continue from year to year:
1. Don't get carried away and end up in the middle of a field – the farmer won't be too excited to see you stepping all over his plants 🙂
2. Don't pull and tear away. Use scissors and cut what you need.
3. Be respectful. Take only what you need. 
4. If you are not sure – leave it there. Better safe than sorry. Some plants are toxic enough to kill.
5. Avoid foraging from the sides of busy roads. 
 
So, taken by this ‘frenzy’ ….. I keep cooking green stuff. Green soup, pastes, dips, stews, sauces, melts, pesto, bread, pasta, risotto…..

I might possibly turn green myself soon…

Claire Borg

Nettle and Potato Bread

By 11th February 2014

This bread looks so gorgeous that it could be a perfect centerpiece! Tasty, healthy, interesting and unusual....

Must try for all bread making fanatics...

Ingredients

Instructions

Wash the nettles; in very little water, with garlic and olive oil, cook until soft (few minutes). Blend the nettles (keeping some aside if you are using them also for bread filling), olive oil and add the finely mashed potato. Pour into a measuring jug and add warm water until you reach the 300 ml line.

 In a large bowl mix all the ingredients and mix to form a dough. Turn onto a clean surface and trying not to add too much flour, knead for 10 minutes. Place in a clean bowl, cover and rest until it doubles in size. Knock down, and if you are making buns, cut into even pieces and shape into a balls. Place on a baking tray and cover. Leave to rest for another 30 minutes, then gently brush with water and sprinkle with semolina.

If you are making a filled roll (like the pic), open into a rectangle, spread filling (sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, goat's cheese, cooked nettle leaves and olive oil), roll, then cut and place open side up onto a tray (slightly spaced away from each other). Cover and prove until double in size. Brush with a little oil, sprinkle with some sea salt , then Bake in a hot oven set on 200 degrees until sounding hollow when tapped (about 35-45min).

 

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