Hops are a new vegetable for me. I read that you could eat them ,and as I have a rampant hop plant in my garden, I thought I would give them a try. The parts to use are the shoots, the young tender green tops, cut off before they turn brown and tougher. After steaming them , I tasted them and was pleasantly surprised by the flavour. They actually tasted rather nutty. When I was a
child, we used to eat beech nuts in the Autumn, gathering them on the way home from school, and peeling the little shiny cases, to eat the raw nut inside. It was these that hop shoots reminded me of.
Nettle and Hop Top Pesto
Basil is the obvious herb choice for this, but my seedlings are only just germinating. I used golden marjoram and thyme. My smallest son, who is suspicious of anything green, ate two helpings of this!
1 colanderful of nettle tops
½ colanderful hop tops
1 handful fresh seasonal herbs
1 colve of garlic, crushed
1 tsp lemon juice
Cook the nettles and hop tops in a drop of boiling water for a minute or two. They should be just tender, but still bright green. Drain, but don’t squeeze, and leave to cool a little.
In a separate pan, lightly cook the garlic in olive oil. Again leave to cool.
When both cooked ingredients are warm, rather than hot, put them in a blender, with the fresh herbs and lemon. Whizz round until pureed. If your machine needs more liquid to make it work, you can add some olive oil. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Mix with pasta, top with grated cheese, and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds!
Nettle, Squash and Blue Cheese Lasagne
½ a carrier bag full of nettle tops
1 Butternut squash
3 red onions
tablespoon of butter
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
¾ - 1 pint of milk ( depending on how thick you like your sauce!)
3 cloves of garlic
100g blue cheese ( I used gorgonzola,)
pepper and salt
First, peel, and dice the butternut squash, peel and quarter the red onions, and put them in a roasting pan. Season well with salt and pepper and a good slug of olive oil. And put it in a hot oven to roast for half an hour.
Meanwhile prepare your lasagne sheets if they need it . I lay mine flat in a dish and pour boiling water over them, and leave them to soak for 10 minutes before using. This dish only has two layers of lasagne, so calculate how many you need.
Thoroughly wash your nettles in cold water. Strip larger leaves from stems, and discard stems. Large leaves should be sliced. ( you WILL need gloves on for this!) Put all the nettles in a large pan, with about a centimetre of boiling water at the bottom. Stir around until well wilted – usually takes 1 to 2 minutes, no more. Drain ( squeeze excess water out) , return to pan ( heat turned off) and add tablespoon of butter and generous twist of black pepper..
Make your white / béchamel sauce as normal, then turn heat off and crumble blue cheese in. Stir until it has melted, and then taste and adjust seasoning. THEN crush the garlic into the sauce and stir well.
Now you can assemble it!
On the bottom, put the roasted vegetables, then a layer of lasagne. Then your nettle layer, and another layer of lasagne on top, and finally pour your sauce over the top. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg over the top.
Put in an oven ( 180 degrees) for about 30 / 40 minutes ( until lasagne is cooked, and it’s brown and bubbly on top)
If you don’t like blue cheese, I reckon this would also be delicious with a block of Feta cheese crumbled in with the nettles when you layer then, and a generous seasoning of oregano, and no cheese in the white sauce!
Chana Masala with nettles
Serves about 6
This is a dish which needs planning in advance. It REALLY, REALLY, does taste better if made 24 hours in advance and left to sit and soak up flavours!
250g dried chickpeas, soaked and pre-cooked, or 2 tins of chickpeas
1/2 carrier bag of nettle tops or shredded leaves, washed
1 onion thinly sliced
1 red and 1green pepper sliced
4 tomatoes chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed
Juice of 1 lime
Bunch of fresh coriander
2 tablespoons of Chana masala spice ( available from Ethnic grocers)
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground chilli
½ tsp cinnamon
4 cardamons, split open
1 Bay leaf
Salt to taste
Fry the onions in a large heavy bottomed pan, until they are soft, but not brown. Add all the spices, and fry for another minute. Add tomatoes, and peppers, and garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add chickpeas and two cups of water, and leave to simmer with lid on for 20 minutes. Add the nettles, stirring constantly to make sure they are all cooked. After 5 minutes, add the lime juice, and then taste to check the seasoning. Add salt if necessary. Add coriander, stir in, and LEAVE until next day! You can of course eat it straight away, but it tastes much harsher, whereas if you leave it a day it tastes rich and the chickpeas are succulent and full of flavour.
Can be eaten hot or cold, best with naan breads ( or homemade puris if you are feeling really indulgent!)