Guy Hand has a story in this week's issue of Boise Weekly about foraging for food. I am wholeheartedly in favor of cooking and eating gathered grub. I spent last weekend doing just that and brought home stinging nettle and puffball mushrooms.
I have an inherent fear of things that make a person itch. Anything like stinging nettle freaks me out but I do like eating the nettles—I just overprotect myself when gathering the tender green plants. I don a pair of yellow dishwashing gloves, then a pair of leather gloves and then a long-sleeve shirt. Only then will I pick the nettle.
The best nettles to pick are the new-growth ones. I pick small ones that are about 1-foot tall and the tops of taller ones and then put them in a double-layered grocery bag.
To cook the nettles, I bring a pot of salted water to a boil and have a bowl of ice water nearby. I drop the whole mess of nettles into the water and completely submerge, count to five, and then transfer the wilted nettles to the ice water bowl. Boiling nettles kills the poison that makes them sting and makes them completely edible.
Next, I use the nettles like I would any wilted green. I toss them into risotto for a vibrant green finish. I puree them with cream, garlic and shallots for soup. This time, I added the nettles to a mushroom pan sauce for a bear steak.
I also brought home puffball mushrooms. Many people don’t know that they are edible, but with some simple guidelines, you can use these commonly found 'shrooms in all sorts of cooking.
The first thing I do when I find a puffball is squeeze it a little. If it breaks, I toss it. If it has cracks in the skin, I toss it—cracks are caused by a large amount of water and cause the puffballs to be mushy.
When it's time to cook them, I cut the mushrooms up, taking note of the color of the interior. If the center is not completely white, I toss it. They are edible when they're yellow, but they tend to fall apart and are not very good.
After all the fuss over the puffballs, I cook them simply: I use butter, salt and pepper. The key with the puffball is to make sure not to overcook them. Brown one side and then flip it and cook for a few seconds more. If the puffballs cook for too long, the interior turns soft and creamy—and not in a good way.
If you know how to prepare them, puffball mushrooms and nettles can be delicious. If you are going to pick stinging nettle, however, for the love of grub, be careful!