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…
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.
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.
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!
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…