If you go down to the woods today

School holidays are wonderful.  The kids love them.  Who wouldn’t?  Before the Easter holidays, however, I did my usual secret panic attack: how was I going to keep my dynamic girls occupied for two whole weeks? Sure, we live half an hour away from Paris with SO much to do.  But sometimes, we just don’t feel like going to the big city. On a gorgeous day we’d rather not be in traffic jams, or metros, or trains; we’d much rather be with nature.  The garden was depressing, though.  It was shouting at me to look after it after such a long winter. The easiest option was to run away.

So, the three of us grabbed some rubber gloves and bags, and ran off to the forest…

This tree looked like it was looking at us!

Did you know that The Three Bears was a Scottish fairytale?  There were no berries in sight yet, though.  We were here to forage stinging nettles for our supper.

The forest of Saint Germain-en-Laye has a regal feel to it.  The forest is also part of the grounds of the Château of St Germain-en-Laye. It’s spooky to think that Louis XIV could have been hiding behind that tree, targeting some game for a royal dinner.

The nettles were far too small, lucky for them

Last year, we picked bags and bags during the Easter holidays: but this time, the nettles were far too small.  They were still stinging, though.  Just after I snapped this photo, Lucie jumped up screaming, “I’m stung, I”m stung!  Whah!”, and so Mum had to find some dock leaves quickly to calm her before getting home.  So, the project this year fell completely flat.  But it didn’t stop the children having a good run around and to play spook.

Pick the higher leaves and don’t forget the gloves!

A few days’ ago, however, the children were at school and I was just sick of the computer.  The sun was out in all its glory and so I returned as goldilocks to the forest.  This time the nettles were perfect: beautifully tall and with plenty newer leaves to pick at the top.  Why do you pick them at the top?  They are less bitter than the tougher leaves and most importantly, you don’t want nettles that could have been sprayed by foxes or dogs on their walks, for example. 😉  Also ensure you never pick nettles next to the roadside, as they risk being sprayed by herbicides.  You want them as pure as possible, as nature intended.

As I was picking them, a shocked passer-by asked, “Vous cherchez.. les orties?” When I explained I was picking them for supper, he took to his heels.  Did he think I was making up some magic potion, or something? Anyway, walking out of the forest, you arrive in the castle grounds.  At the end of this avenue, you have a look-out to La Defense with the Eiffel Tower in the background.  The weather is so glorious, that everyone is hiding on benches in the shade.

Back home, still armed with the gloves, it was time to give them a good wash and soak. I had heard that nettles are good for you, but on reading up on their health benefits, they contain a high amount of iron and many other vital vitamins and minerals, including magnesium. OK, my excuse for eating dark chocolate for magnesium can perhaps be substituted this week for nettles.

Back to keeping the children occupied: while I blanched the clean nettles in boiling water for a couple of minutes (to take away the sting), the children were having fun making some fresh pasta.

They love making pasta so much, there is always a fight who gets to turn the handle.

I was wanting to make some nettle ravioli with Corsican brocciu cheese.  That’s for the next time.  The quickest solution was to whiz together the blanched nettles with garlic, parmesan, olive oil and toasted pine nuts for some stinging nettle pesto (see recipe for nettle pesto).

This has to be my favourite dish in the world in the Springtime.  It’s also THE dish I love to serve when we can finally sit outside for dinner.  Sun shining, glass of wine in hand, plate of fresh tagliatelle and pesto? Forget everything else in the world!

Serve with deep fried nettle leaves

Now, I wonder if you were expecting a stinging nettle macaron?  OK, I may be mad about macarons, but I’m not blooming crazy, either!  Although, perhaps it’s not a bad idea…

46 replies
  1. The Mistress of Spices
    The Mistress of Spices says:

    I’ve never seen or heard of nettles, but I’m sure they made for a delicious pesto. I totally agree with you about the bliss of sitting outside with a dish like this and a glass of wine. Thank heavens that the sunshine and warm weather are upon us!

  2. thoma
    thoma says:

    haha magic potion..i’m sure you sneaked some aside for tht without confessing it here!!!
    your daughters are so resourceful…they can make pasta instead of being glued to the screen…wow lovely upbringing Mommy Jill!

  3. aesh came
    aesh came says:

    the flowers can be eaten? wow that’s something new for me. I usually use the leaves for cooking, and yes it goes well with pasta. Just loving it.

  4. Gourmantine
    Gourmantine says:

    What a nice post to read! And, yes I was waiting for you to write “nettle macarons coming up next” 🙂 I’ve had a nettle soup once, which was delicous, I’m curious to make the pesto 🙂

  5. Becky
    Becky says:

    I live in the woods, but I have never seen nettles. Looks like that you had a glorious day in your woods. Anytime that you have to spend with your children, is a glorious day, and on top of it, then you get to make pasta:)

  6. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    What fun it was to read about your adventures in the forest. It’s so amazing to think of the history of that area. It looked like a fairytale.

  7. Roxana GreenGirl
    Roxana GreenGirl says:

    What a fun day! I live near woods too and it’s always a great day to spend the day.
    I remember when I was a child my grand-grandmother used to take me to pick nettles. Oh, I lost count how many times I forgot my gloves and got bitten.
    Love your pesto idea. Thanks for sharing.
    Your daughter are so beautiful.

  8. Magic of Spice
    Magic of Spice says:

    You are so funny Jill..such a delightful post and dish! Your girls are adorable and clearly get the food love thing 😉 I do think that nettle macarons sound like an interesting journey that I would love to venture 🙂
    Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

  9. Spice Sherpa
    Spice Sherpa says:

    Les orties? Now I know how to say nettle in French! I’ve been bitten many, many times by nettle but never knew you could eat them. Another Foodbuzz blogger shared piles of recipes on them. I am tempted…

    It would be poetic justice for it to be MY turn to bite the nettle back! 🙂

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Great! Would you be able to tell me who gave tons of recipes on nettles online and I can link up? That would be cool.
      Love it – sting them back 😉

  10. Three-Cookies
    Three-Cookies says:

    Great blog. I heard about nettles through the River Cottage series, have been curious to try it. I live in Sweden and I am sure there are nettles around, I need to look and hope to find the right plant

  11. Brandie
    Brandie says:

    I understand about being sick of the computer. You did the right thing – you ran away for a while. Loved seeing the pictures of your girls. They are so talented in cooking already!
    Can I hire them to make that gorgeous pasta for me? Although that would probably be very expensive pasta because I’d have to fly them to America..lol.

  12. Kim - Liv Life
    Kim - Liv Life says:

    What a fun day!! And oh, how I could go for a two week holiday from school. We are counting the days until it is done and then it will be 5 weeks till Bahamas!!! Woo Hoo!!!!
    I’ve never heard of stinging nettles, and certainly wouldn’t have thought to make pesto out of them. I read the health benefits and I’m intrigued. Don’t really think I’d vote for it in the macaron either…!!
    Your girls are adorable, so glad you are enjoying your break!
    Dad sends his best to the “champagne lady from Paris”!! 🙂

  13. Angela FRS
    Angela FRS says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I have been afraid to try to deal with the “stinging” part, so I have only enjoyed nettles in restaurants, but you may have inspired me to try…

  14. Choclette
    Choclette says:

    I have to say, I was expecting a stinging macaron – that would be fun. Our nettles are pretty much over now – too big and tough. But we had nettle pasta and nettle risotto and nettle stir fry and nettle tart and lots of nettle soup. We love nettles. Had no idea you lived near the forest. I’d thought of you in the middle of bustling Paris, but I’m glad to know you are close to trees. It all looks magnificent. A forest that turns into an immaculate park with amazing views – lovely.

  15. Lyndsey @ Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops
    Lyndsey @ Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops says:

    Yum- this looks delicious! I’ve always wanted to try picking and eating nettles (cooked of course!) but I have too many reminders of being stung when I was younger! Your search for dock leaves for your daughter had me laughing – ah the memories! The forest and the grounds are stunning – makes me want to go back to France for a holiday!! If only I didn’t live so far away now : ( Thanks for sharing such a lovely post : )

  16. elisabeth
    elisabeth says:

    Love the beautiful photos, and especially the homemade pasta. Your children certainly had fun helping you.
    I also have the same crank out type pasta machine, from years ago…this is the one that works best. The electric kind that I paid a lot of money for that has all the different shapes, is donated to Goodwill!
    Thanks for sharing:DDD

  17. Biren @ Roti n Rice
    Biren @ Roti n Rice says:

    Jill, the first and last part of this post made me laugh. At least you had the option to run away into the woods from the depressing thought of clearing the yard. As for the “blooming crazy” bit, I just read something similar from another blog and can’t help but crack up. 😀

    I have never tried stinging nettle but I am sure it must be delicious with homemade pasta and pine nuts.

  18. Annie
    Annie says:

    It is so lovely here you live! I think this is the first time I have ever heard of nettles. Are they native to France? I may have to do some research on this one…

  19. Hester Casey - Alchemy
    Hester Casey - Alchemy says:

    Hahaha hubble bubble! So funny that the passer-by fled! I didn’t know The Three Bears was a Scottish fairytale but I should have guessed as they were having porridge for breakfast. Your daughters are beautiful and foraging is such a lovely skill to teach them. I had been planning soup for my crop of nettles but your pasta looks so much more delicious.

  20. Liz
    Liz says:

    LOL, nettle macarons? Now that would create a buzz! I remember walking in the woods with my dad and sisters…and the misery of those nettle stings. Never thought of cooking with them, though…what a lovely pasta dish you created.

    Your daughters are darling, Jill…thanks for sharing them with us 🙂

  21. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    I think it’s so lovely that you could go and pick your own food for dinner. I haven’t ever tasted a stinging nettle to my knowledge, but I’d love to try yours!

  22. Aroma y Cocina
    Aroma y Cocina says:

    I always had nettles as enemies. From today I will change my strategy and I will capture them for my kitchen.
    Lovely to live near a forest wirh plenty of them!

    Liked it!

  23. visda
    visda says:

    What a great post Jill. Glad to hear that spring has finally sprung in your neck of the wood.:-) I also go mushroom hunting in this season, which you may have tons of too. I have never cooked nettles. Time to try them especially with the great nutritious values you talk about. How do they taste like? Also looking forward to reading your stinging nettle macaron post soon.:-)

  24. Amy
    Amy says:

    Nettles have always intimidated me, but the way that you present them they sound delicious! Your pasta is lovely, and I’ll bet it tasted even better :)!

  25. Manu
    Manu says:

    Beautiful post Jill! It was almost like being there with you! I love “ortiche” as well! Delicious recipe. And your girls look soooo pretty!!!<3 Have a great evening!

  26. Lisa McDonnell
    Lisa McDonnell says:

    What a lovely day with your girls! They are just precious!! I am not familiar with “stinging nettles.” Interesting to learn a new thing today. The nettle pesto looks delicious!

  27. Nami @ Just One Cookbook
    Nami @ Just One Cookbook says:

    Oh I enjoyed reading today’s post on how you spent the day with your cute daughters and watching your lovely assistants in the kitchen! I guess all siblings fight for who takes turns.. LOL. I have never seen how to make pasta and it looks interesting and fun. Your homemade pasta meal looks amazing too!

  28. Parsley Sage
    Parsley Sage says:

    I’m very envious of your lovely forest! Especially when you can go out and pick something and turn it into this lovely pasta! (or maybe even a macaron!) Thanks for sharing!



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