Stinging Nettle Pizza

It is nettle season. When I saw the nettle pizza recipe in my Tartine cookbook, I knew I had to go back this spring to get some fresh wild nettles before it was too late. I have made nettle tea and nettle pasta before but I really wanted to try this pizza. Even though nettles are hard to pick, partly because they sting and partly because you need so many, it is worth it. Also, they have many cleansing and healing properties. They are pretty amazing!

Here is what you need to make nettle pizza:
Pizza dough (recipe below)
6 c. (or more) of fresh nettle leaves or tips (I used the whole tip of the wild nettle shoot)
1/2 c. heavy cream
Red pepper flakes
salt
1/2 to 3/4 c. of robiola cheese cut into cubes (or you can use mozzarella and some grated parmesan)

First you need to find nettles. I live in Boston and I still can get them, so no matter where you live, it should be fairly easy to find them. They are basically just weeds wild herbs.

nettle_environOn the left where you see the small bunches of green mounds, those are nettles and on the right is a close up of what they look like in the wild. They mostly grow near wet woodland areas or near small streams. They have feathery leaves that are coated in fine hairs,
which are actually hollow stingers that can really hurt if you don’t wear gloves!

nettle_closeIf you look closely at this photo, you can see the fine white “hairs” which are stingers. But don’t worry, they melt when you cook them.

nettle_vs_garlicThis photo I just had to add in because if you do go foraging you are likely to see these plants growing side-by-side. On the left are stinging nettles, which are edible when cooked and very good for you, high in iron and they are the panacea for everything from arthritis and gout to eczema and hair loss! On the right are wild garlic plants which are invasive and bad for the environment. They release a chemical in the soil and inhibit anything else from growing for years. The wild garlic at quick glance look a lot like nettles. However, upon closer inspection notice that the leaves are smooth, not feathery or hairy, and curvier and not as toothy as the nettles. Also, when you pull them out of the ground they smell like garlic. I would not eat them. Nettles are what you are after.

pickHere is another side-by-image of picking the nettles. Two things to remember 1. wear gloves and 2. bring scissors to cut the tops off (which you will thank me later) they are so much easier to clean this way and more tender. Pick a lot more than you think you will need.
We picked almost one whole brown grocery bag full.

specimenHere is another close up of these crazy plants. I use this whole top portion (after cleaning of course) the stem will get tender too, almost like a spinach stem.

washUnless these babies are cooked you do not want to handle them without gloves or tongs.
So break out the tongs and clean them in a sink filled with cold water. If you did a good job of picking just the tops of the plants, you should not have much dirt or sand, maybe a few ants that got a free ride! (I was worried that if I did not use them right away they would wilt, but that didn’t happen.)

bowlcleanedI used about six packed cups for one little pizza. (I saved the rest and blanched them so I can make fresh nettle pasta which will be a different post a little later…)

Now you are ready to make the dough.
Pizza Dough
This is an adaptation from Mario Batali
3 1/4 c. all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
2 t. instant or rapid rise yeast
1 T salt
1 T sugar
1 c. warm water
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 T evoo

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, warm water, wine and evoo. Using a wooden spoon stir this together and work until it is too stiff to stir, then mix with your hands until you can make a ball of dough. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is only slightly sticky. If it is really sticky just add enough flour until it comes together.

doughIt should look something like the photo above. Then oil a large clean bowl and add the dough ball and turn the dough to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm part of the kitchen. Let rise until double in volume, about an hour.

dough_restThen punch the dough down, it is ready to split into thirds. Which means you can make 3 pizzas. (I made two nettle pizzas and one tomato, cheese, olive and basil which I had just hanging around.)

threeYou can see how awesome this dough is, even when you split it up it still wants to rise and make bubbles!

Then you roll it out to make any shape you want. I make a rectangle because it fits my cookie sheets which I line with aluminum foil and coat with a little olive oil. It seems so much easier and less messy than cornmeal which always burns in my oven.

roll

Here is how I roll it out.

dough_sheet

This is what it looks like ready for the topping.

toss

Basically take your nettles in a large bowl and toss with the cream, salt and red pepper flakes. Since the nettles have a texture and are not smooth, look how the cream clings to them. Cool!
I take about 1T of evoo and spread it on the rolled out dough, sprinkle the robiola onto it (i think i also added some grated parmesan) and then top with the nettle mixture.

before

Bake this in a preheated 500 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until the bottom gets browned but doesn’t burn. I still use a pizza stone and place the cookie sheet on top of it.

after

This is how mine came out. The flavor is worth the work. I made this one and one where I used feta cheese instead and I preferred this one. The cream and the cheese creates this lovely juicy quality and the crust is so crisp and flavorful. And by the way, pizza is normally the lowest food in the food chain for me and I really did enjoy it. And right now, this is my new favorite way to use nettles which really lets the nettles show off their awesomeness!

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