When I first met P twenty years ago in New York City, I never would have guessed he'd be the back-to-nature, off-the-grid, tree-huggin' guy he is now. Yes, we have solar panels.Yes, we have bio-diesel cars. Yes, our backyard is now a veggie garden. Yes, we compost and recycle just about everything.
But the new frontier for my man is the frontier itself... He is foraging in the woods.
A few weeks back I wrote of our Chanterelle hunting and the delicious bounty from that endeavor. This time P returned to the woods in search of wild nettles. Armed with tongs and a bag, off he went. He had done careful research in identifying nettles and was giddy to find his first patch. Unwilling to fully trust his discovery, he tried the fool-proof touch test; P brushed his hand over the nettle and the sting was undeniable.
If you don't have nettles growing in your yard and are not inclined to wander the woods nearby, nettles sometimes pop up at the spring farmer's market. If they aren't available, you can use spinach as a lovely substitute; even sauteed mushroom would be delicious here. A savory custard is simply a crust-less quiche where an infinite number of variations would work and I encourage you to have fun experimenting with different herb, cheese, and vegetable combinations. (Also, if you are a devoted quiche person, you can use this recipe as a tasty filling.)
If you need further convincing to try nettles, note that they have been used for ages for their medicinal properties and are especially helpful for allergies.
SAVORY CUSTARD WITH WILD NETTLES
custard technique adapted from NY Times article dated October 4, 2006
- 4 4 inch ramekins, buttered
- 3 eggs, plus 2 yokes at room temperature
- 1 3/4 cup cream
- 3/4 cup milk
- a couple of thyme sprigs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 leek, thinly chop the tender white end only
- 3-4 cups stinging nettle leaves (spinach or mushrooms would work here as well)
- olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300.
Put a kettle of water on the stove to heat.
Place milk and cream in a small saucepan along with the thyme sprigs. Gently warm and the thyme will steep in the liquid.
Carefully handle the uncooked nettles. Use gloves and tongs and do not touch the raw plant directly or you will suffer that famous sting. Wash nettles and leave them wet. Saute leeks with olive oil. After leeks are tender, add washed nettle leaves and garlic and saute until cooked thoroughly. Once the nettles are cooked, there is no more risk of sting and you can handle them as you would spinach or any other green. Set aside. When cooled, squeeze veggies in a cloth to wring out all the liquid. Roughly chop greens. You want about 1 cup cooked veggies in the end.
Butter ramekins. Scoop a little less than 1/4 cup of veggies into the bottom of each ramekin. Place ramekins in a large baking dish (that will hold the custards' water bath) space ramekins at least 1 inch apart. Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk eggs, yokes, and salt until blended. Add grated Parmesan.
Remove thyme branches from cream/milk. Slowly pour cream into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour egg/cream mix into each ramekin to cover the sauteed veggies.
Pour hot (but not boiling water) into the large baking dish holding the custard ramekins. The water should reach up to just one inch below the rims of the ramekins.
Bake in oven for about 35 minutes. To test for doneness, carefully tilt a ramekin to the side. If the center bulges, but no liquid leaks out, then they are done.
You can eat these delectable custards within a few hours of cooking - either warm or at room temp.
We ate our nettle custards for dinner with a roast chicken and simple salad. I also think they would be fun for brunch with friends.