I had to continue on this prickly pasta theme, because I’m still a little bit shocked that this dish worked. I didn’t even take prep pictures, thinking that this could just be my little secret. Not that I should have been surprised — I’m not exactly the first one to roast an eggplant whole, skin and all, only to scoop the flesh out, doctor it with a bit of olive oil, and discover exactly what I had been missing for all these years. I think my faith in eggplant was lacking a bit, after the million spongy and, frankly, kind of gross eggplant dishes I’ve managed to assemble in recent years. And yet, I kept on buying them. Good thing, don’t you think?
This dish is my last recipe’s less virtuous cousin. It’s inexact and utterly malleable, depending on your tastes. But I do think you should try it, with or without the nettles. Again, a bit of arugula, thrown in at the last minute, provides the green counterpoint the silky eggplant flesh needs.
The local farmer’s market is always full of pleasant surprises, but I think early Springtime, when everyone wants something — anything — fresh and local to eat, is when I find the most unusual ingredients offered up. It’s funny, because sometimes those running the stands are almost apologetic about their wares. I always try and make a point to go and find something new on these occasions, searching for signs advertising strange, exotic (but somehow local?) ingredients. This week, I came across a bag of incredibly fresh nettles, picked just that morning. See how pretty they are?
Nettles don’t exactly sound appetizing. When they get older, they remind you not to go near them if you happen to brush their skin. As I found, the little ones still manage to do the same; pulling them out of their careful wrapping sent little tingles of pain across my fingers, like a thousand tiny splinters. I suppose I’ve done worse when cooking before (and after the aloe vera leaf we brought back with us from the store today, these little prickles were child’s play). I had no idea what to do with them. The girl at the stand just said they tasted incredibly green, like springtime, and so I figured I’d just do something simple. A little lemon, and crushed coriander would make for a subtle and delicious flavor, coupled with paprika, garlic, shallots, and olive oil. Add a bit of pasta, and you have the kind of meal you should be eating after cracking open an amazing triple creme brie in the afternoon, after planting still more vegetables in the garden.
The pairing was quite good, in fact, and as for the nettles? They cook down into fresh, slightly firm, soft greens, which go nicely with the tang and slightly spicy aftertaste of the lemon and coriander pairing. The girl who sold them to me? She was right on. They taste of spring, just around the corner. And for the skeptics out there, James says they’re better than Brussels sprouts.