As the rain beats down soaking the soil beyond recognition, there is little to do but hang out in the greenhouse watching aubergines try to germinate, repair the damage from terrorist night mice and watch wasps battle for their queen. In the garden, peas are flowering almost against their will, fava beans sprouts are looking doubtfully at the grey sky and baby radishes are barely holding on to their roots in such a deluge but nettles are loving it. They are growing everywhere in masses, offering us a delicious, nutritious vitamin C/iron packed alternative to the the last faded winter carrots and hollow turnips on the market stands.
Although I love nettle as they are appreciated by butterflies and bees alike and are a fertilising treat for my tomato plants all through the growing season, one sting and my whole body zings for days as if I was bitten by a powerful cobra. To harvest an evening meal, I need to be armed with a thick pair of gardening gloves, long sleeves, trousers with heavy wool socks and a scissors and even then they find a way to pierce through the tiniest tear or gap.
Once in the kitchen they still need to be handled with kid gloves until blanched in boiling water to erase the sting. I still fear a fresh leaf has escaped the scalding water and is going to zing me to death on my first mouthful.
I`ve been told that if you hold your breath while picking them, you feel none of the sting but thats all crap (at least in my special case). Jean Francois can be breathing out or in and pick them with his bare hands without feeling a thing but he does have special lizard like skin that must protect him.
I still know that a few hours later he always acts a little woozy so the nettle sting must just have a delayed effect on him. I also have a strange neighbour who whips himself every morning with fresh nettle plants to counter his rheumatic problems!
Right now I'm making nettle pesto to spread it on my breakfast toast and its almost better than the summer basil pesto I dream of...
Nettle Pesto with Sun Dried Tomatoes
200g young baby nettle heads
30g grated pecorino or an aged sheep`s cheese
2 crushed garlic cloves with salt
200ml olive oil
4 medium sun dried tomatoes
salt and pepper
Scatter the breadcrumbs on a baking tray and toast in an oven set to 180 degrees until golden and dry.
With your gloves on, wash the nettle heads well. Blanche in boiling water for a mere minute and drain through a sieve over a bowl (to save the precious green water to drink) before plunging them in a bowl of cold water. Remove and dry in a salad spinner.
Put the nettles, breadcrumbs, garlic and cheese in a food processor and spin while trickling in the olive oil until you have a bright, runny paste.
Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice the tomatoes into ribbons and incorporate into the pesto.