A risotto with dandelions and nettles? It's delicious, we promise

Weed it and reap with this fresh green risotto full of goodness

Nettles taste quite like spinach and can be used in a similar way

Nettles taste quite like spinach and can be used in a similar way

 

I’ll be honest, my family were not eagerly awaiting this dish to land on the dinner table when I told them what I was making. But soon, the reassuringly familiar smell of onions being softened in butter, white wine simmering and freshly crushed garlic wafted through the kitchen and they soon forgot that I was trying a new recipe on them.

Stinging nettles were a common sight when we were younger. There was always a patch somewhere in the garden that the goats loved, munching through the huge bunches pulled from the soil with their whiskered mouths, the distinctive astringent smell filling the air as they were rustled. We picked dandelions for our pet hamster and fed it through the bars of the cage for him to nibble.

There’s undoubtable goodness in these greens that easily grow wildly here in Ireland. Both nettles and dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, K and B, have minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium and have a healthy dose of potent phytonutrients including chlorophyll that gives this puree its rich deep green colour.

To add to this homegrown Irish dish, I’ve used barley instead of rice for the risotto. It gives this dish a lovely nutty texture and feels more substantial. I’m using a strong hard goat’s cheese from Ardsallagh and it works so well but Parmesan would be fine.

When foraging for nettles and dandelion leaves, make sure you choose somewhere clean and out in the open. Now is the perfect time of year as new shoots appear. Avoid picking around trees as there will usually be bird droppings on the leaves. Harvest nettles while they are still young, favouring the soft green tips of the plant instead of the large coarse leaves. Wear gloves while you’re picking them and wash them well before using.

Nettles taste quite like spinach and can be used in a similar way. They are not suitable for salads or eating raw and do need to be cooked or at least washed in very hot water to neutralise the sting.

NETTLE AND DANDELION RISOTTO

Ingredients
Serves 4
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely diced
300g barley
250ml white wine
600ml stock or water
1-2 large handfuls of young dandelion leaves and nettle tops
1 tbsp lemon juice
80ml olive oil
Sea salt
1 clove garlic

To serve
Ardsallagh hard goat’s cheese or Parmesan

Method
Melt the butter in a medium-sized heavy-based pan. Add the onion and cook over a low heat until it is softened and sweet.

Add the barley and stir well to coat the barley in the melted butter. Cook for a minute before adding the wine. Increase the heat a little and stir with a wooden spoon until most of the white wine has been absorbed. Add the stock and lower the heat to a simmer.

Leave to cook for 30-40 minutes until the barley is still slightly al dente but cooked.

Pick over the dandelion leaves and nettles to make sure they are all clean. Wash them well in a colander over the sink then pour boiling water over them. Leave to cool a little then squeeze any excess water off the leaves. Use rubber gloves for this as you may still be stung!

Blitz the wilted leaves, garlic, half a teaspoon of salt, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor or nutribullet until smooth. Taste and season accordingly. It should be highly seasoned and quite strong as you’ll be coating the barley with it. Pour all of the green puree onto the barley and stir well to combine.

Divide between four bowls. Top with shavings of goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

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