Nettles have a fantastic, mineral tang, like the very best wild greens, plus you can always wear rubber gloves to protect yourself
Fri 3 Jun 2016 17.00 BSTLast modified on Tue 9 Jul 2019 09.39 BST
Thomasina Miers’ chickpea pancake with nettles and salted ricotta.
Thomasina Miers’ chickpea pancake with nettles and salted ricotta. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay
Many people are put off cooking with nettles because they’re worried about the sting. Well, don’t be: for one thing, the nettle is an ingredient that’s been used for years, both here and abroad, and it loses its sting once blanched. Nettles have a fantastic, mineral tang, like the very best wild greens, plus you can always wear rubber gloves to protect yourself, if need be.
I’m using them here in a pancake stuffing; the vinegar adds acidity to the mix, which brings alive the other flavours. The pineapple in the second recipe plays a similar role. I first came across the combination of pineapple and tomato in a salad in Oaxaca, Mexico. Even though that was seven years ago, I still remember vividly how revelatory it was to see pineapple as a savoury element; this is my take on the pairing.
Chickpea pancake with nettles and salted ricotta
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Nettles taste a bit like a strong spinach, so they’re a perfect foil for their rich, buttery partners in these gluten-free gram flour pancakes. Makes four well-sized pancakes.
80g nettle tips, or 160g spinach or chard (nettles don’t shrink as much on cooking, hence the different quantities)
3 tbsp ghee (or butter)
4 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
1 pinch each salt and sugar
225g cooked chickpeas (or 1 tin, drained and rinsed)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
30g salted ricotta, coarsely crumbled or grated (or pecorino)
4 tbsp fresh ricotta
Zest of 1 lemon
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 handful fresh basil leaves
For the pancakes
150g gram (chickpea) flour
75ml natural yoghurt
½ tsp turmeric
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp flaked sea salt
Blanch the nettles for a minute in an inch of salted, boiling water (take care not to sting yourself when you put them in the pot). Drain, refresh and squeeze out any excess liquid.
Melt a tablespoon of ghee in a frying pan, then saute the shallots with a pinch of salt and sugar for 15 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the chickpeas and vinegar, cook for a few minutes, then add the cheeses, lemon, chilli and basil, and season.
Meanwhile, whisk the flour and yoghurt for the pancakes in a bowl until you have a thick ball of paste. Slowly add the water to make a loose batter the thickness of pouring cream (you may not need all the water, but you do want a relatively thin, crepe-like pancake), then stir in the remaining ingredients.
Heat a little of the remaining ghee in a large, nonstick frying pan and ladle in enough batter to form a rough 20cm round. Cook for three minutes, until bubbles appear and the underside is a rich golden colour, then flip and cook on the other side for a minute. Tip out on to a warm plate, cover with foil and keep warm while you make the remaining three pancakes. Fill the pancakes with the chickpea and nettle filling and eat at once.
Mexican panzanella with grilled monkfish
Thomasina Miers’ Mexican panzanella with grilled monkfish
Thomasina Miers’ Mexican panzanella with grilled monkfish. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay
This beautiful, sunny salad makes a lovely starter on its own, maybe tossed through with crumbled feta, but it’s terrific with barbecued, chargrilled or just grilled fish. Serves four.
400g monkfish tail
Salt and black pepper
For the salad
½ pineapple, peeled and cored
500g ripe tomatoes on the vine (baby plum or cherry, ideally), quartered
½ cucumber, finely chopped
1 bunch radishes, finely chopped
200g stale bread, cut into small dice
Olive oil, for frying
1 handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
For the dressing
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 handful mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice and zest of 2 limes
½ red onion, peeled and finely chopped
For the chilli salt
1 tsp Turkish chilli flakes
1 tsp flaked sea salt
¼-½ tsp sugar, to taste
Chop the pineapple and put it in a large bowl with all the other salad ingredients apart from the bread, oil and coriander. Fry the bread in two to three tablespoons of olive oil until you have really crisp croutons, then blitz half of them into breadcrumbs and set aside.
In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking the oil, mint and lime, then season with black pepper and just a little salt – go easy, because you’ll dress the salad with chilli salt at the end. Rub a generous tablespoon of dressing all over the fish, and season generously. Add the onion to the dressing, then toss through the salad with the reserved croutons and leave to marinate for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, crush the chilli flakes, salt and sugar using a pestle and mortar (or blitz them in a spice grinder), then spoon into a small bowl and take to the table. Heat a chargrill (or grill or barbecue) and, once it’s smoking hot, cook the fish for three to five minutes on each side, depending on its thickness. (If you’re nervous about overcooking the fish, cut it in half lengthways and grill for a few minutes a side.)
Toss the coriander through the salad, then serve with the fish, chilli salt and toasted breadcrumbs.
The weekend cook: put sunshine on a plate this mango season – Thomasina Miers’ recipes
And for the rest of the week…
Salted ricotta makes a wonderful addition to a summery salad of peas, broad beans and baby gem; it’s also tasty grated over pasta dressed with a simple tomato sauce, or on a vibrant, green, spinach or sorrel risotto. If you’d prefer a meaty filling for the pancakes, replace the salted ricotta with crisp, fried sausagemeat; gram flour makes good sweet pancakes, too. The chilli-sugar-salt mix with the fish is, in fact, a classic seasoning for Mexican fruit salad. Try it on ripe alphonso mangoes and vanilla ice-cream for an unusual but sensational pudding.