It’s been a while since I updated this page. Being a new parent is a lot of work. And sleepless nights – a lot of sleepless nights. Every time I sit in front of the computer to write an update, the baby wakes up, or dinner is ready, or I need to clean up some puke or poop. Baby’s sleeping right now and the house is relatively clean, so I’m gonna attack this, despite the fact that by now nettle season is over so this recipe will have to be for next spring. I guess you could turn it into Smoked Salmon and Spinach Quiche. Yup, that sounds pretty good too, and Spring Kale Salad could be Early Summer Greens Salad. Yup, still sounds yummy. Phew!
We got to house-sit for our friends on one of the Gulf Islands recently, and had the chance to introduce our Peanut to country living. She LOVED it! She became best friends with the dog, a beautiful golden retriever, who quickly learned to tolerate the not-so-gentle love grasps of a 10-month old. The dog learned to calm her excitement around the baby and give gentle “tooth kisses”. She sat, slightly perplexed, when the baby grabbed her tongue during a session of energetic hand licking. If the baby got fussy on a car ride, the dog would pop her head up and lick her fingers, and soon enough we would hear giggles from the back seat. Violet also learned about chickens – they would follow us everywhere on the farm, hoping we’d throw kitchen scraps or grains at them. They were a pretty friendly bunch, who gave us more eggs than we knew what to do with.
Another great bonus for being on a Gulf Island at that exact time, besides the amazing weather (I’m pretty sure it was at least 10 degrees warmer on the farm than anywhere else) was the stinging nettles. I’m pretty new to stinging nettles – I grew up in Toronto and wasn’t introduced to urban foraging until I moved to Vancouver. They are nifty plants, used medicinally to treat all sorts of things from allergies to arthritis. They have thousands of little hairs that will, if you touch them, inject you will all sorts of chemicals, including histamines and serotonin. Neat!
When harvesting stinging nettles, only pick from fresh young plants that haven’t flowered yet. I only picked the top part of the plant, up to the second or third set of leaves, although I’ve read that you can pick the top 5-6 leaf sets, up to a foot on each plant. The most important thing to remember is to wear gloves (rubber dishwashing gloves work fine) unless you’re going for a histamine-serotonin hit. My friend told me about an elderly woman who every spring would strip down and jump naked into a patch of stinging nettles, which took care of her arthritis for the whole year! Or maybe it was the serotonin that prompted her to do this. Back to harvesting: you can use clippers to snip the tops of the plants, or just grab the stem with one hand and pinch the tips off with the other. Just be careful not to yank out the whole plant so that you can come back next year to pick them again.
While on the island, we decided to try the locally-smoked salmon. We’d driven past the sign a bunch of times and thought we should make that our destination for our daily dog-walk. We walked about 45 minutes on the roadside path, up to the house with the big sign, then up the driveway where we were greeted first by a very old retriever, then by the other two dogs, who I can only describe as the dog version of the Gremlins, gnashing teeth and all. Through the barking we managed to put in our order and walked away with a pretty big fillet of smoked sockeye. Next morning we turned some of it into smoked salmon eggs benedict, with eggs so fresh they were still warm from being sat on by the hens. Oh, so good!
I grew up with quiche – it’s an easy, quick, inexpensive, comforting meal, and my mom made it about once a week. It’s something that I make often as well, sometimes for brunch and sometimes for dinner. I think it’s best with homemade crust, but you can use store-bought, or bread like the Creamy Mushroom Tarts and make mini quiches. The ingredients are versatile – don’t have nettles? Use spinach or chard. Don’t like salmon? Use mushrooms or bacon. You can use whatever cheese you have in the fridge. It freezes well, pre or post-baked.
Smoked Salmon and Stinging Nettle Quiche
Pastry for 9-inch pie shell (I like this one or this one)
1 cup milk or light cream
2 – 2 1/2 oz tender young stinging nettles
3 oz smoked salmon, sliced thinly
1/2 tbsp butter
1 smallish shallot, minced
1/2 – 1 cup grated cheese (cheddar or Swiss work well, or crumbled chèvre or feta)
1 – 2 tbsp capers
Small bunch fresh dill, chopped finely (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Bake the pie shell at 400° for 10 minutes. If you’re using pie weights, remove the weights and bake another 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce temperature to 350°.
Note: If you’re using a tart pan with removable bottom, make sure that there are no cracks in the pastry when it goes in the oven. Otherwise you’ll end up with a very messy oven and an empty tart shell. Quiche #1 ended up spilling out its insides. Well, the quiche was ruined but luckily I had put it on a cookie sheet before baking it, so I was able to scoop the eggy mixture back into the tart, and managed not to ruin the oven, but the tart was not pretty. The moral is, always bake your quiches on a cookie sheet or something like that.
Steam nettles until just tender, about 5 minutes. Plunge in cool water to stop them cooking, squeeze out as much moisture as you can, and chop finely. Set aside.
In a medium pan, heat the butter over medium heat until foamy. Add the shallots and cook until transparent. Add the nettles and cook until the moisture evaporates. Spread the shallots and nettles into the pie shell, and top with chopped dill, if using. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the nettles, then place the salmon pieces on top of the cheese. Scatter the capers all over the pie.
Beat together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper until smooth, pour into the shell, and bake 25-35 minutes or until fairly firm and lightly browned. When you poke it with a knife it should look custardy in the middle, not runny. If it’s still runny, bake it another 5 minutes and check again.
Goes great with spring kale salad (spring kale is my favourite, it’s tender and sweet and delicious. If you don’t have kale growing in your garden, you should.)
Spring Kale Salad with Yogurt Dressing
1/4 cup yogurt
1/8-1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Small bunch of fresh spring kale
Fresh kale flowers
Mix together all ingredients except the kale and flowers. Toss with kale. Can be served immediately or chilled for up to 2 hours before serving. Top with kale flowers just before serving.