Savory Tart with Nettles and Spinach
Spending the winter in a city is almost tolerable. It’s gray and miserable, but at least you can hole up in your apartment, read a book and mentally block out the rest of the world.
Warmer weather rolls around however and the city, for me, becomes the most intolerable place. Certainly, there are the days with bright blue skies and the sunshine hitting the sidewalk just so. You sit outside of a café, order a coffee and watch as people walk by you, making up their life stories in your head. But in all honesty, when the sun comes out, I want to be as far away from people as possible. I want to be in the woods. I want to be walking barefoot in the grass somewhere. I want to be listening to birds chirping. I want to wake up with the sun. I want stillness.
Going to the Saturday morning market in Paris has been my tiny dose of this. A reminder that a natural world exists outside of the urban maze of concrete and fancy cars. Every Saturday, standing and looking at all the baskets of food grown not too far outside of the city is like being teleported to the countryside, if only for a second.
I have noticed this as spring has come into full force. Every Saturday is like a mini escape to the country, to a place where vegetables are misshapen and dirty, the way they should be.
A few weeks ago, there was a basket of nettles. I grew up with nettles. The thing you tried desperately to avoid as you ran around in your shorts, but inevitably brushed up against and spent the afternoon with a stinging red spot on your calf. As the verdant foliage of spring comes into full force, I just want to be in that field, dodging those nettles.
But while always surrounded by nettles, I had actually never cooked with them. I know, the horror. In Sweden, nettles are commonly used in soup, something my mother grew up with.
When I saw that basket, I knew I had to my some. Essentially, the urban form of foraging; when you can’t escape to a place where you can actually forage.
The woman at the stand grabbed a big handful of the nettles and started stuffing them into one of our paper produce bags that we brought.
“Don’t they sting?” I asked.
“Oh yes, but I’m so used to it,” she said, with the hardened savvy of someone who works outside all the time.
She tipped us to a variety of ways to use the nettles. First, some of them were turned to pesto at my friend Emily’s house. All you have to do is put them in some boiling water first, which keeps them from stinging your tongue.
Later in the week, we opted to make a tart. We sautéed a silly amount of spinach and nettles, in an attempt to use up all the greens that were on the verge of going bad. I whisked an egg and added some yogurt. We made a buckwheat olive oil crust, threw in the sautéed greens, poured in the egg and yogurt batter, sprinkled it all with chopped toasted hazelnuts for a crispy top and put it in the oven.
We had of course overdone it on the greens; they towered over the top of the tart crust (so this recipe has a slightly reduced amount).
If that tart was anything, it was green. As my boyfriend said, “I feel like I am eating the front lawn.”
We don’t have a front lawn, but I understood exactly what he meant. The tart was so full of greens, it almost felt like you were eating straight from the earth. It’s a Greens In Your Face kind of tart.
But isn’t this what eating should be? Food is not perfect. When we experiment in the kitchen some efforts are more successful than others. If the food we made was always perfect, there would be no room for improvement, and certainly no room for serendipity.
This tart is all about serendipity, and getting your hands on some nettles, which I hope you had the chance to forage them yourself.
Savory Tart with Nettles and Spinach
A really big bunch of nettles (in the 200 to 250 gram range)
A really big bunch of spinach (in the 300 to 350 gram range)
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1/2 (120 milliliters) cup goat yogurt
Salt + pepper
About 1/4 cup (1.25 ounces, 35 grams) hazelnut parmesan (ie toasted hazelnuts ground with salt, recipe here)
2 cups (8.5 ounces, 240 grams) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
4 to 6 tablespoons cold water
Prepare the dough, by mixing together the buckwheat flour and olive oil until you get a coarse meal. Add in the water one tablespoon at a time until you can work the dough into a ball. Cover and chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the tart.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Rinse the nettles and spinach, and sauté with olive oil and garlic for a few minutes, until the greens have cooked down and have a wilted look to them.
Whisk together the eggs and yogurt.
Grease a tart pan with olive oil and press the crust into the pan. Blind bake the crust for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place the sautéed greens in the tart crust, then pour over the egg and yogurt batter. Sprinkle with the ground hazelnuts.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve warm.
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