I hadn’t had nettle risotto for years, since my mum’s alpine neighbour Rosetta (in Valle d’Aosta, in northern Italy) had made it for us when I was a teenager, but I always remembered it as something delicious.
Since we’ve been in Covid-19 lockdown but are allowed out for one bit of daily exercise, I’ve been walking along many fields lined with nettles. I suggested nettle risotto to my hubby and youngest daughter on a number of occasions, but they were a bit put off by…well, the fact it’s nettles!
I decided to make some anyway, just for me… turns out our daughter loved it and hubby didn’t mind it, either! Ha! I feel vindicated! I also had a go at making nettle fritters (recipe here). Also delicious!
Important when making nettle risotto:
Nettles will give you a nasty rash (urticaria) if you touch them, so when picking them and handling them prior to cooking, wear long sleeves, long trousers, socks & shoes that cover your feet completely. Also wear gloves! Once the nettles are cooked, they no longer sting.
Nettle risotto ingredients (for 2-3 people):
Quantities are approximate
- A small carrier bag full of nettles – quantity / volume includes the bits of stalks at the picking stage (I picked the top 2-3 leaf layers off each nettle plant by cutting the stem with scissors below the 2nd or 3rd layer of leaves, taking care to get plants whose leaves were in good condition and not too huge…also I went into the nettles to avoid getting the ones right on the edge of the path)
- 2 generous knobs of butter
- 1 onion
- Approx. 4 small handfuls of risotto rice (Carnaroli is hailed as an ideal risotto rice and is indeed lovely, but I generally use Arborio, which is a bit less expensive and still delicious and creamy)
- 500ml stock (either vegetable if you want to make this recipe vegetarian, or chicken stock, which I often use for a richer flavour)
- Freshly grated parmesan, to taste
How to make the nettle risotto
Wash the nettles (carefully – wear gloves!) and remove the leaves from the stalks, keeping only the leaves.
In a sauté pan or stockpot (ideally non-stick, but it’s not essential, it just makes life easier), melt the butter and add the whole nettle leaves. Leave them to wilt and gently cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, finely chop the onion.
Remove the nettles from the pan and place them on a chopping board. Add some butter to the pan and add the onions, softening them on a low heat until they are translucent. Keep the heat low as you don’t want them to brown.
While the onions are softening, roughly chop the cooked nettles. They are safe to touch now.
Add the chopped nettles to the onions, stir, then add the risotto rice. Stir, then leave for 2-3 minutes until the rice grains have begun to become a little translucent, stirring frequently.
Add a little of the stock – enough to cover the rice but not so much you’re drowning it. Stir, then leave it cooking on a low heat (just a very gentle simmer), stirring as little as possible so you don’t break the rice grains, until most of the stock has absorbed. Add a little more stock and keep repeating this until the rice grains are almost completely cooked (al dente – still a little bit of hardness at the centre) and the rice is still a bit ‘wetter’ than you’d like your eating consistency to be for the risotto. It should take about 10-15 minutes to get to this stage.
At this point, turn off the heat, put a lid over your pan and leave it for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, your rice should be perfectly cooked, still slightly al dente but not hard, and beautifully moist (but not wet like a soup!).
Stir in a bit of grated parmesan, then serve, and add freshly-grated parmesan (to taste) to each individual portion.