Making Bread Art with Nettles: a recipe from sustainable chef Dougy Robertson.
This weeks blog is a delightful nettle based Focaccia from my wonderful brother and sustainable chef, Dougy Robertson. When not foraging the wilds and cooking up mean treats, he can be found sweating away in London spin studios, paddle boarding the UK's crystal seas or hanging out with his adoring family. This great recipe has loads of handy tips and tricks and it'll get you well on your way to some stunning nettle bread art! As always, do share your exploits with us on FB or Insta @unitethebeat.
If you fancy having a play with your focaccia and making a masterpiece, why not decorate and create a #focacciagarden/ #focacciaart. With Chelsea flower show supposed to be this week, mark the occasion with some tasty, creative fun.
Spring is a great time to get out and forage to introduce some excitement into our dishes. Lots of fresh veg now coming in from the fields too but don’t ignore your humble nettles! Absolutely packed with nutrients and very plentiful. Although a pain to pick (sorry couldn’t be avoided), if you wear gloves you should be fine. There are tons of things you can do with nettles but with the current revival of home bread making I thought this would be a good place to start.
So first off, the forage (although I am aware that you can purchase nettles from some veg suppliers): You want the top few leaves of young nettles. I pick the top four as a little sprig. I am in the habit of counting them into a bag too so for this recipe please pick 30 sprigs.
Don’t pick leaves of nettles that have flowered, there is a toxin build up in the leaves.
Don’t pick nettles that have been sprayed with pesticide of weed killer (so know the area).
Don’t pick nettles growing on toxic waste (sounds obvious that one).
Don’t grab handfuls, pick each one. Important in all foraging not only to pick what you need but also be careful of accidentally picking unwanted plants growing amongst your target plant.
Do identify them as nettles (they look like nettles and sting).
Do try this at home.
Get a pan of boiling water on the go.
Wash the nettles and drain in a colander/sieve. Pop all your nettles in and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Strain and submerge in cold water. Once cool, drain. You have now blanched them. Firstly, they should no longer be able to sting you, which is great. Secondly this should prevent enzymes breaking down the colour or structure.
Squeeze out the water and form a sort of log.
They will keep like this in your fridge (wrapped) for a few days, to be honest ready for use in a wealth of recipes. This is what I do to nettles for anything.
Ingredients: To make 1 23cm square loaf tin focaccia.
30 blanched nettles ‘sprigs’. Squeezed dry and finely-roughly chopped.
300g Strong white flour. + some spare.
1 tsp (7g packet) Dry yeast, 10g fresh yeast, or use the recipe as a variation on your existing sourdough practises (i.e. add some nettles).
1 tbsp Olive oil, or rapeseed oil. Plus 2-3 tbsp oil for tray greasing.
1 good pinches of salt. I use a well know brand of salt crystals from the UK.
220ml Warm water. Probably going to use 180-200ml.
Veg for #focacciagarden if decorating.
1. Put your 300g flour in a large mixing bowl. Make sure you have some spare.
2. Add your salt, yeast and mix using your hand as a whisking claw. (If fresh yeast crumble in and rub through the flour, some people like to add to the water, however as you will see a bit further down, you may not use all the water). Make a well in the middle.
3. Drop your nettles in the well, drizzle over 1 tbsp oil.
4. Pour the water in in batches using your other hand as a claw to mix. NB you may not need all the water.
5. Your target dough should be wet enough to be sticky but still hold some shape.
6. Once mixed leave in a rough ball in the middle of the bowl with a damp tea towel over the top. Leave for 15-30mins. The flour will start to absorb the water, making it feel less wet and easier to handle. The yeast will also start doing its thing.
7. Then what I call a ‘tidy’ knead, we will keep the dough in the bowl. Wet your hands (prevents from sticking to your hands) and gently bring the dough away from the sides. Pull up the far edge and stretch it over itself to the front. Repeat from the side. Turn it and stretch it in on itself three more times, shaping it into a ball.
8. Cover and leave for 15-30 mins. Repeat step 7 twice more.
9. Then cover and leave for 1hr to prove (1 st Prove). It will roughly be twice its size at this point.
10. Use the rest of your oil to grease your tray. Tip the dough directly into the tray. Pick it up from the edges to help stretch it out and turn it over in the oil to get an even coating. Make sure it is stretched out evenly over your tray and into the corners.
11. The 2nd prove: Cover the tray so that the dough doesn’t dry out but don’t let the top of the dough touch anything as it rises. Leave to rise for 2-3hrs.
12. Get a fan oven up to 220C. Put an oven safe bowl/small tray with some boiling water in the bottom of the oven. You just want a cup of water when the oven is hot.
13. Optional decoration: - decorate with thin bits of veg to make your masterpiece. Careful not to collapse the dough by being too heavy handed.
14. Put your tray in centre of the oven for 5 mins at 220. Then drop to 180 and leave for a further 35-40mins.
15. Take out of the oven and allow to completely cool in the tray. I know that this can be a test of patience but if you cut it too early it still hasn’t finished its cooking process.