The Greek savory pie known as spanakopita is traditionally made with spinach, but I prefer to make it with nettles (Urtica dioica). Although they are a stinging plant, nettles are one of the most beneficial and nourishing foods/medicines we have. Once its leaves are cooked or dried, it loses its sting. However, do not eat raw nettles. Nettles are filled with minerals, including iron and calcium- 10 times the amount of calcium and 23 times the amount of Iron compared to kale and if prepared properly, are very safe. Nettle is an excellent and safe tonic for pregnant women and is generally a nutritious and supportive herb.
This is one of my favorite dishes! It’s highly nutritious and tasty. One of my goals in my cooking is to find meals that are nutrient dense but that I also want to eat and get excited about. I harvest the nettles in the early summer and blanch them so I can use them throughout the winter. I also use these frozen nettles in my smoothies, lasagna, quiche, in quesadillas and anywhere else you might place a handful of frozen spinach while cooking.
What you’ll need:
2 to 3 quart size bags full of frozen nettles (if using fresh nettles, blanch 2 big full bowls of them)
1 pound ricotta
1 pound feta
2 bunches fresh scallions
1 bunch fresh dill
1/2 pound butter (though I often use 1 pound)
1 package phyllo dough (thawed)
Special kitchen tool: pastry brush
Step by Step:
1. Place the frozen nettles on the counter the morning of the day you want to make spanakopita. It's important that they are thawed so you can squeeze all the liquid out of them so that it doesn't make your phyllo pastry moist, the buttery crispiness of the pastry is my favorite part.
2. When you are ready to make the spanakopita, squeeze the liquid out of the nettles thoroughly.
3. Chop the scallions and fresh dill. Add these, along with the eggs, ricotta cheese and feta cheese into the food processor and blend completely. If you don’t have a food processor you can mix these ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Then mix the nettles in by hand.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
5. Melt the butter. Use a pastry brush to cover (it is just like putting a large brush into butter and painting it onto the bottom of the pan) and brush it onto the bottom of a glass pyrex (approx. 9”x18”).
6. Layer approximately 10 phyllo sheets on the bottom of the pan with butter brushed between each layer. This needs to be done quickly because the phyllo dough dries out quickly and then it becomes more crumbly and harder to work with. As you do this the phyllo sheets might rip or tear, don’t worry about it too much, just lather on butter and the spanakopita will taste good! Put all of the nettle mixture on top of layered phyllo and spread it evenly. Layer the rest of the phyllo dough on top of the nettle mixture, buttering each layer. Butter the top and use a sharp knife to cut into squares (this is necessary because if you try to cut after baking the crispy phyllo will just fall apart).
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, until crispy and golden on top.