Stinging Nettles

Photo: Danny Kim. Illustrations by John Burgoyne.

No ordinary weed, the wild stinging nettle takes its name from its deceptively innocent-looking leaves harboring dozens of tiny needles that pack a wallop when handled raw. (The rashy, slightly traumatized man who shot the photo you see before you will attest to that.) Not to worry. Gloves and a quick plunge in a pot of boiling water render the prickly plant harmless. Add garlic, lemon, mascarpone, and fettuccine—as in the following recipe from Otto chef Dan Drohan—and the painful memory vanishes.

Dan Drohan’s Fettuccine With Nettles and Lemon

6 oz. stinging-nettle leaves
1 lb. fettuccine (or spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini)
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp. black pepper
Pinch of chile flakes
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 tbs. mascarpone
2 tbs. Parmigiano-Reggiano

(1) While wearing gloves, pick off the nettle leaves and discard tough stems. In a pot, blanch the nettles in boiling salted water and drain. (2) Roughly chop the nettles and reserve. In a large pot, bring 8 quarts of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic, black pepper, and chile flakes, and cook until the garlic is golden brown. Add the chopped nettles to the pan and toss with the garlic until the nettles are warm. Add half of the lemon juice, and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mascarpone and half of the lemon zest with the nettles mixture. Finish cooking the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and drain. (3) Return the sauté pan to the burner over medium heat. Add the pasta and toss with the reserved pasta water and the nettles mixture. Adjust seasoning with the remaining lemon juice and zest, and more black pepper. Finish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil. Serves 4.

Stinging Nettles