What have the Romans ever done for us?
Well, to start with, they introduced nettles to this country! This abundant, leafy green weed is beloved by butterflies and ladybirds but is the bane of British gardeners. However, before we begin to wage war on the nettles in our gardens we can at least enjoy their culinary and nutritional benefits in early spring, when they are young and tender. By late April they will have become too coarse, though in late summer newly self-seeded, as well as strimmed patches of nettles, will have sprouted and so you can harvest a second crop of young leaves!
Not only do nettles add a vibrant, emerald green colour to a dish they also provide a host of health benefits and are impressively nutritious, containing more protein and essential amino acids than any other leafy green, as well as vitamins (A,B,C &K) minerals (calcium, iron, potasium & magnesium) and, of course, plenty of fibre. There is one health warning however… wear rubber gloves and a long sleeved top when handling!
Bitter Chocolate & Hazelnut Torte with Nutella Cream (Serves 10-12)
As the season of chocolate excess is approaching, I have included this deliciously rich chocolate dessert cake recipe that is perfect to serve at an Easter gathering. It makes an elegant dessert when served with seasonal fruits and flavoured whipped cream.
320g dark chocolate (70 percent)
145g caster sugar
5 eggs, separated
50g ground roasted hazelnuts or ground almonds
1-2 tblsps icing sugar
300ml double cream
2-3 tblsps Nutella
Heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm spring-sided cake tin. Break up the chocolate and place in a heat proof bowl with the butter. Heat over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate and butter have melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the ground hazelnuts or almonds.
Place the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until they have doubled in volume and are pale and creamy.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not too firm – the peaks should still droop slightly. Fold the chocolate into the egg yolk mixture then, using a plastic spatula or metal spoon, gently fold in a third of the whisked egg white. When there are no white streaks, gently fold in the remaining egg white.
Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until just set. Allow the cake to cool in the tin (the cake will sink a little as it cools - it will be crispy on the outside and gooey inside) then carefully remove the baking paper and place the cake on a serving plate.
Dust the cake with icing sugar. Whip the cream until it is just beginning to thicken up then stir in the Nutella to taste. Serve the cake in slices with a soft dollop of Nutella cream on top!
Alternative flavourings for the whipped cream:
Coffee - dissolve 2 tsps of instant coffee in 2 tsps water, add to the whipped cream with icing sugar, to taste.
Amaretti, Cointreau, whiskey or rum - add 2 tblsps of spirit or liqueur to the whipped cream with icing sugar, to taste.
Marmalade - stir 2-3 tblsps fine-cut marmalade into the whipped cream.