So, beyond some blackberries, I’ve never really been foraging before. But in my new house I live by Warley Woods, England’s largest community run park, a beautiful space with a lot of good wildlife and fauna. More importantly, just a nice place for a walk.
I picked nettles. They are amazing. They’re like an earthy spinach, they’re incredibly abundant, they’re free, and they have precisely zero food miles, because you’ve got them yourself. Maybe 1 or 2 food miles if you live further from your park, to be fair.
Two words of advice for the intrepid food explorer. Firstly, wear thick gloves. Latex gloves are not thick enough, and I had a sore thumb all day. Secondly, don’t pick anything lower than a tall dog can cock it’s leg, for obvious reasons!
A full plastic bag will get you about 150g of nettles, once you’ve stripped the leaves from the stalks, which is about twice what you need!
- 75g Nettle leaves
- 200g Pearl Barley
- 1 small onion or a few shallots
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 50ml wine or white wine
- About 2l chicken stock
- 30g butter
- 20g parmesan
Get your prep done. Cut the garlic finely, dice your onions and cut the nettle leaves into rough strips, maybe half a centimetre wide.
In a large, heavy based pan, add a little oil over a low to medium heat, and sweat your garlic and onions for five minutes. When these are translucent, throw the pearl barley in too, and give it a good stir.
Pour in the wine, increasing the heat to a gentle boil, and stir, constantly as this reduces down.
When it’s pretty much boiled out, add enough stock to cover everything and season with the thyme, and some salt and pepper. . Continue stirring, more so as it boils out, and each time you run out, add enough to cover everything again and repeat the process. You’ll need to judge when it’s done by taste alone here. The pearl barley should be soft, but still a little more ‘al dente’ in the middle, and the last of the liquid should look like a creamy mess at the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat, beat in the butter and parmesan, to up the creaminess factor, and then beat in the shredded nettles. If you’re greedy like me, top with some roast chicken breast, and enjoy with the rest of the bottle of wine!