Today was a beautiful unseasonably warm day for March. I think it was 60 degrees. We took the kids down to the beach, where it was warm enough for them to roil up their pant-sleeves and squish around in the cool mud, turning over rocks and looking for crabs and limpets.
It was more than warm enough for me to move some dirt around and plant some things in the garden - radishes, arugula, peas, even potatoes - but I have been sinfully lazy. In fact a large part of the reason we went to the beach is so I wouldn't have to feel guilty for not working in the garden.
Much easier than shovel-work is scissors-work: in the afternoon, after we got home from the bay, I took a pair of kitchen gloves, a pair of scissors, and a big brown paper bag and went out to the field to harvest nettles. In the past, I have usually used the nettles to make Avgolemono Soup, but this year I decided to make nettle cheese.
On the way to the bay, there is a wonderful local cheese maker, Samish Bay cheese. They sell their beautiful cow's milk cheese at local farmer's markets,. and they are justly locally famous for their Ladysmith Cheese, Gouda flavored with Caraway, and Jalapeño Queso Fresco. They also have a seasonable fresh cheese, available for just a few months each year, flavored with nettles.
I adore stinging nettles. Well, let me amend that statement just a little - I love eating stinging nettles; I do not love accidentally wading into a patch of them in capri-pants. Stinging nettles are a wild child's nemesis - lying in wait along roadside ditches and fence-lines to attack the unwary. The merest brush of the dusty green leaves against bare skin causes a sting that lasts hours - not for nothing is this plant's name is Spanish "Mala Mujer."
However, the sting is easily removed by drying or by blanching for even a few seconds in boiling water. I put a full kettle on to boil, place the nettles in a colander in the sink, and trickle the boiling water over the nettles. Let sit for five minutes, then rinse with cold water and squeeze to remove excess water. Then they are ready to be used as food or medicine. Many herbalists consider the nettle to be a near- panacea (see, for example http://www.herballegacy.com/Vance_Medicinal.html) and I certainly can't quibble. But there is no doubt as to nettle's nutritional qualities.
Plus, they are just plain delicious. They taste like a blend of spinach and asparagus. They have a full, soft texture and a wonderful mouth-feel. They are one of those foods that you can feel make you stronger and healthier as you eat them.
Tonight, I am going to try making my own version of Samish Bay's nettle cheese. I am making my basic cheddar recipe, but in the second pressing I will add the finely chopped nettles along with the salt. Of course, I am working with goat milk instead of cow's milk, and also my cheese is made from raw milk whereas their's is pasteurized. I expect it to be delicious. I'll let you know.