Usually free/cheap food needs a little bit of effort to bring it up to scratch, but Ransoms and nettles are so abundant and quick to cook (you don’t even need to cook the ransoms just add them to salads or sandwiches if you prefer) that it seems ludicrous not to use them. The hardest part is foraging for them, not in a having-to-scale-el-capitan-to-get-them kind of hard but in a persuading-my-family-to-get-out-of-the-house-at-the-weekend kind of hard! I work at home through the week, so my desire to get out for a walk come the weekend is overwhelming. Unfortunately the rest of the family don’t share my enthusiasm, probably because they spend all week out of the house and are naturally more home bodies. My eldest daughter (eight) starts to do impressions of a moody teenager as soon as I mention the idea of a weekend walk, ‘noooo, it’s soooo boring’ and their general resistance to the idea really tests my resolve and requires immense levels of perseverance and cajoling. But the thing is, once I finally get them out into the countryside they love it!
Last weekend I used the idea of foraging for ransoms and young nettles to make a pasta sauce as bate to lure them out of the house. It seemed to do the trick, so we headed down to a lovely, old coach road which winds through some woods near our house. The kids wanted an adventure, which loosely translates into they want to veer a few meters off the ‘boring’ path. So I told them to look for something green and spear like and if they weren’t sure to rub the leaf to see if it smelled of garlic. Off they trotted, observing and testing foliage, most of which weren’t ransoms, although they convinced themselves that they absolutely did smell of garlic. Eventually we found a large patch under a holly bush and proceeded to pick as much as we felt necessary. The kids even picked and got stung by the odd nettle, an act which usually involves running around hysterically demanding dock leaves to sooth the agonising pain but which on this occasion only seemed to induce mild curiosity.
It’s a good time of year for ransoms/nettles, they’re abundant and still fairly mild and delicate. Try to get them before they’ve flowered as after that they can become a bit tough and too strong in flavour. You’ll need a good bag full (about 50g of each). Wash them in plenty of water then blanche the nettles in salted boiling water for two mins, dropping the ransom leaves in for the final minute. Drain and then blitz in a food processor with parmesan and olive oil, salt and pepper then add to cooked spaghetti. The flavour is similar to spinach but lighter, less metallic with a nice subtle garlic flavour. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days (possibly longer, like pesto, if you cover it in oil) or you can happily freeze it. It’s a sauce that’s quick and fresh but most of all, it’s free.
50g Young nettle leaves
50g Ransom leaves
20-30g grated parmesan
Olive oil (enough to loosen in the food processor)
Salt and Pepper to taste