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If you can’t beat nettles, eat them.


There are some oil seed rape flowers just starting to open in the field opposite me. In a week or two, the field will be that fluorescent yellow, quite different from anything else growing in the British countryside. My internal monologue battles itself with contradictory feelings about early spring: elation at the signs of sunshine and warmth, the countryside coming back to life, and downheartedness at the prospect of all those jobs that need to be done that could be ignored over winter, like preparing my beekeeping equipment. I suppose it is the same for most people, but one small victory is possible: get Vanessa to make a recipe that uses some of those delicate nettle leaves…the victory will be short-lived but it will be tasty.

My children are plotting Mothers’ Day surprises already. My youngest daughter slipped a card into my shopping trolley last week and I caught a shop assistant smiling as I explained that buying my own card from a shop was not really the point of Mothers’ Day and that I’d prefer something made with love instead.

I’ve always been drawn to using foraged ingredients. There is something irresistible about something wild, especially if there is no other way to get hold of it. Nettles are one of my favourite things to forage and they are at their best in early spring and you certainly won’t find them in any supermarket. Nettle leaves are highly nutritious, containing more vitamins and minerals than spinach, and very tasty. If you really don’t have access to nettles then spinach is a good substitute…but in most places it doesn’t take much to find some…and don’t worry, once they have been exposed to heat, they are soft and have no sting!

Recipe: Nettle and Parmesan Tear and Share Bread

This tear and share loaf is so easy and will make your mum feel really loved and cherished by making a lunch of a bowl of soup and this loaf. The bread is soft, the perfect consistency for mopping up the last drops of soup from the bottom of the bowl. The nettles, cheese and spices give it some warmth and richness.

Method

 

Stir together the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and water, and use a wooden spoon or your hand to combine all the ingredients and bring together to make a nice soft dough. Tip the dough onto the work surface and begin kneading. As you knead for 5-10 minutes, you’ll feel the dough start to become smoother and more elastic. When you have a silky texture, use your dough scraper to form the dough into a ball. Place it back in the bowl and cover with a clean, damp cloth. Leave the bowl at room temperature for 60 minutes. The ball of dough should almost double in size.

While the dough is rising, give the nettle leaves a thorough wash (don’t forget to wear gloves when you’re handling them). Put the washed nettles and butter straight into a pan. Put the lid on and cook gently until wilted (around 3 – 4 minutes). Leave to cool then drain.

In a small bowl, mix the nettles with the cumin seeds, and parmesan. Set this to one side while you prepare the dough.

Handling the dough carefully, tip it from the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently press the dough to make a rectangle and spread the nettle mixture evenly across the surface. Starting with one of the long sides of the rectangle, roll the dough up to make something resembling a Swiss roll. Use a sharp knife to divide the dough roll into 12 even pieces and add to a lightly oiled cloche base (you don’t need the lid for this recipe). They should be touching but not squashed in together. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to prove for 30 minutes.

During this time, preheat the oven to 200°C, 400F, gas 6.

Before baking, drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough and a little more Parmesan followed by the poppy seeds. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes. The loaf is designed to pull apart, so handle with care. Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack.

I love this served while still slightly warm from the oven. It is best eaten on the day of baking, although it is very good warmed the following day.

* Collecting nettles Always wear gloves to protect your hands when picking nettles. Long sleeves and trousers or wellies are also a good idea. Pick only the young tips of the nettle plant and collect them from plants growing away from busy roads or field edges near crops that have been sprayed with herbicides.

Ingredients:

500g Organic “00” white flour, plus extra for dusting

9g sachet Bioreal organic yeast 10g fine sea salt 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for the top of the loaf

345g water

A Large mug of fresh nettle leaves (* see note below)

20g butter

1 tsp cumin seeds toasted 50g finely grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Butter for greasing 1 tbsp poppy seeds Rape seed oil to grease the cloche base.

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton

 

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Bioreal dried yeast | £0.50

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Mulino Marino “00” flour | £2.75

Type "00" flour from strong organic wheat suitable for ciabatta, baguettes, brioches, croissants and as a general bread flour.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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