Claire’s Nettle-Kissed Buns
“The peasants of Gascony beat a faithless wife wi’ nettles,” he said. He lowered the spiky bunch of leaves and rushed the flower heads lightly across one breast. I gasped from the sudden sting, and a faint red blotch appeared as though by magic on my skin.
“Will ye have me do so?” he asked. “Shall I punish you that way?”
“If you…if you like.” My lips were trembling so hard I could barely get out the words. A few crumbs of earth from the nettles’ roots had fallen between my breasts; one rolled down the slope of my ribs, dislodged by my pounding heart, I imagined. The welt on my breast burned like fire. I closed my eyes, imagining in vivid detail exactly what being thrashed with a bunch of nettles would feel like.
Suddenly the viselike grip on my wrist relaxed. I opened my eyes to find Jamie sitting cross-legged by me, the plants thrown aside and scattered on the ground. He had a faint, rueful smile on his lips.
“I beat you once in justice, Sassenach, and ye threatened to disembowel me with my own dirk. Now you’ll ask me to whip ye wi’ nettles?” He shook his head slowly, wondering, and his hand reached as though by its own volition to cup my cheek. “Is my pride worth so much to you , then?”
“Yes! Yes, it bloody is!” I sat up myself, and grasped him by the shoulders, taking both of us by surprise as I kissed him hard and awkwardly.
Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber (Chapter 29)
And you’re still gonna tell me you don’t want to, at least, try stinging nettles? I mean, look at that colour! A gorgeous green that would make Claire sigh with pleasure…as well as keep the scurvy at bay and the teeth in your jaw should you ever manage to fall through some stones of your own.
I love that picture up there so much that I’m bumping the regularly scheduled programming that is the photo you see down there…meant to represent the nettles on the cliffs near Fontainebleau where Jamie and Claire so intensely re-claim their passion after that painful Paris absence — you know, the absence and related activities that most of us don’t even like to talk about.
But the light in the pic below is a little flat. And if there’s one word that doesn’t belong anywhere near Claire’s breasts, it’s flat. (Especially if you’re reading Exile!) :)
Nettle Season is upon us out here in the Pacific Northwest. Some areas of California have been picking them for at least a month, and other regions of North America are just behind as the spring thaw continues. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of varieties of nettles worldwide. A quick google will show you what you have in your area and when the best time of year to pick them is.
Our stinging nettles pop up after rain, when it’s still a little cool, so they’re the ideal fodder for the early-season forager. If you’re interested, find a foraging club in your area. You’ll get out for a walk, learn a ton, and most likely go home with some free food to boot. I have a small crop that I have been tending in the forest behind our house for the past 4 years. I clip them regularly, as soon as they appear, and I have a good supply through the end of the season which, around here, is mid-April. At that point, the plants are too old and bitter.
But the reality is that you probably don’t have to find your own. You’ll find nettles at many farmer’s markets as they come into season. I’ve seen them for sale by farmers and foragers alike.
Here’s a few other ways you can cook with nettles.
As for Claire’ Buns, I racked by brain (and the thesaurus) for some way of turning nettle-brushed breasts into rolls (or vice-versa), but I just couldn’t pull it off. So we’ll stick with her other end — Jamie appreciates that part of her anatomy just as much, after all.
I made a few of each size. We used the large ones at breakfast, splitting them like bagels, toasting them lightly and topping them with a poached egg and bacon for an out-of-this-world breakfast sandwich. 3 days in a row. Even when they’re a little stale, Claire’s Buns are amazing. (Say it aloud. Isn’t it fun?)
I spread garlic butter on the mid-sized ones for a quick and tasty dinner with grilled chicken breast and salad. And the mini ones would make really cute appetizer, either alone or filled.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
Soft, earthy rolls that are delicious at breakfast, lunch, dinner…even parties. If you’ve never eaten Stinging Nettles, these may be just the thing to win you over to the green side.
Yield: 8 large, 16 medium or 24 small buns
For the dough:
- All-Purpose Flour – 2 Cups
- Rye Flour or Whole-Wheat Flour – 1/2 Cup
- Instant Yeast – 1¼ tsp
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Butter, room temp, in small cubes – 2 Tble
- Egg – 1 large
- Milk, room temp – ⅔ Cup
- Honey – 2 Tble
To brush the dough:
- Butter, melted – 3 Tble
For the stinging-nettle filling:
- Nettles, blanched and finely chopped – 1 Cup (see notes below)
- Parmesan Cheese, shredded – ¼ Cup
- Lemon Zest – from 1 lemon
- Pine Nuts – ¼ Cup (see notes)
Read the whole recipe through once before you begin.
Combine the flours, yeast, salt and butter in a large bowl, cutting in the butter until it’s in small lumps.
Lightly whisk the egg into the milk and add it to the dry ingredients along with the honey. Mix with your hand until it forms a rough ball, then remove it to a lightly-floured counter, and knead until the dough is soft, supple and tacky — but not sticky — 6-8 minutes (You may need to add a little flour to get the right dough. It depends on the humidity in the air.)
Pour 1 tsp oil into the clean/dry bowl, roll the dough to coat, cover with a plate or towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and roll into a rectangle:
- 12”x12” for 8 large buns (breakfast bun/sandwich size)
- 8”x20” for 16 med. buns (dinner roll size)
- 6”x24” for 24 small buns (party size)
Brush the dough with melted butter, then spread the nettles evenly on top. Follow with the cheese, lemon zest and pine nuts, then press the toppings firmly into the dough with the palm of your hand.
Roll the dough up into a log, using a bench scraper or spatula to un-stick the dough when necessary. Pinch the bottom seam to seal, then rock it, seam side down, to even everything out.
Flour a knife or bench scraper to cut the log into half, then quarters. Continue to cut each piece in half until you have the desired number of buns (as above). Gently transfer the slices to a parchment-lined or buttered pan, cover, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1-1½ hours.
Set the rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Dab the remaining melted butter onto the proofed rolls with a pastry brush, then bake until light golden, 10-18 minutes, depending on their size.
Cool on a rack. Serve warm with butter, or slice for sandwiches.
- For nettle foraging tips, watch this episode of Outlander Kitchen’s Outdoor Pantry! Always wear gloves when handling nettles, until they are blanched and cooled.
- You will need 5 or 6 big (gloved) handfuls of nettles for this recipe. Use the top 2-3 sets of leaves only, and wash well in tepid water with a splash of vinegar to kill any little bugs.
- Blanch the spinach in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to shock the nettles in a bowl filled with ice water. This will cool them immediately and stay the bright green colour.
- Remove from the water and wring the nettles in a clean dishtowel to squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop finely and proceed with the recipe.
- Frozen chopped spinach is a great substitute if you can’t get your (gloved) hands on nettles. It also has to be wrung out, once thawed, to remove excess water.
- If pine nuts are unavailable, or prohibitively expensive, use slivered almonds instead.
- I also tried cooking these in muffin tins, but we preferred the soft sides of the buns cooked together in a pan.