I had my first brush with stinging nettle during a month-long farming stint in Ireland. In Ireland, nettle is a weed-gone-wild, growing everywhere and reaching heights of three feet tall. I quickly learned to keep my distance, as the slightest contact with the plant produces a stinging sensation (no surprise) that can can stay with you for hours. Needless to say, I had only bad memories associated with stinging nettles, and I certainly never expected to see my old nemesis on a pizza.
Although I once witnessed a fellow farm volunteer successfully to eat a raw nettle leaf as an act of bravery (leaf folded with the stinging hairs on the inside), I was unaware that cooking nettles removes the sting and transforms it into a green with a taste that's similar to spinach. Pizzaiolo in Oakland, California is in-the-know, as they make a stinging nettle pizza. Chef Charlie Hallowell (who earned his chops at Chez Panisse) scatters raw nettles, mozzarella, pecorino and shaved red onion onto a doughy crust and cooks it in a wood-fired oven, transforming the horrible into something beautiful and delicious. This bold pizza has been named one of the best in the United States. The chance to eat and enjoy something that otherwise causes pain is not to be passed up.
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