Nettles, Chervil and Kale: Greens Restaurant Chef Shares Three Fresh Spring Favorites

Take a tip from Annie Somerville, acclaimed chef at the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, when you explore the upcoming first farmers’ market of the season, check out some of the more unusual, fresh fare that showcase spring flavor.

Chef Somerville knows her seasonal offerings.  For the past 28 years, she has helped lead the Greens Restaurant to become a national showplace for creative, fresh, local vegetarian cuisine that features the local abundance from sustainable and organic California growers.  Her signature dishes, like the Warm Cannelli Beans and Wilted Greens recipe below, draws inspiration from her regular forages at the Embarcadero Farmers’ Market and area farmers.

“At the market the last couple of weeks, you could really start seeing big indicators that the season is shifting and spring has officially arrived,” explains Chef Somerville, as she vividly and affectionately describes spring produce as if they were beloved old friends returning for a visit.  For an artistic chef like Somerville, the farmers’ market provides a culinary palette, a place where she can wander and draw cooking inspiration from the ingredients she sees.

Take a tip from Chef Somerville and explore some of the more unusual, uniquely flavorful fare that appears this time of year.  Here’s some ideas on using three of her favorites:  Nettle, chervil and kale.

1.  Nettle

“The rich flavor of nettles make a fabulous, rustic soup stock,” offers Somerville.  Simmer nettles with other vegetables such as fennel and serve with chunky croutons sprinkled on top.  A quick blanching neutralizes the sting of nettles. Cooked nettles have a robust flavor and are high in calcium and iron.  Somerville also recommends using cooked nettle for a ravioli filling.

2.   Chevril
“Tender and lush, this feathery green herb has a slight licorice flavor and works great in a fresh herbal blend with herbs such as parsley, tarragon and chives,” Somerville adds.  Chevril’s delicate, fine leaves make it a flavorful addition to omelets and egg dishes.

3.  Kale
“I love kale,” declares Somerville with a smile.  One of the oldest cultivated vegetables, kale has been a favorite since ancient Rome and ranks vastly superior to most vegetables.  Kale has the highest protein content of all cultivated vegetables and is rich in vitamins A and C.  But the United States hasn’t embraced the potential of kale:  According to the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, the largest consumer of kale in this country is Pizza Hut, but not for eating.  They use if for decorating the salad bar.

“Try to find young kale and quickly sauté it with other spring greens such as Swiss chard,” advises Somerville.  Here’s her Warm Cannellini Beans and Wilted Greens recipe that can use chard, kale or event broccoli rabe (a slightly bitter green popular in Italy) for the greens:

Warm Cannellini Beams and Wilted Greens
From the cookbook:
Everyday Greens:  Home cooking from Greens, the celebrated vegetarian restaurant,
by Annie Somerville

Garlic Toasts (see below)
3 ounces dried cannellini, emergo or white runner beans, about ½ cup, sorted and soaked overnight
6 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 bay leaf
2 fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch of chard, kale or broccoli rabe, stems removed, cut into thick ribbons, 6 – 8 cups
1 or 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Make the Garlic Toasts (see below)
*  Drain the beans and rinse well.  Place in a saucepan with the water, ½ teaspoon garlic, bay leaf, and sage.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, simmer, uncovered, until completely tender about 1 ½ hours.  There should be some broth in the pan, just enough to cover the beans.  Remove the bay leaf and sage; season the beans with 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans.  If they’re too thin, return to the pan to the heat and cook over low heat for a minute or two until thick enough to spread, stirring to keep them from sticking to the pan.  Keep the beans warm.
*  Heat the remaining oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the greens, the remaining garlic, 2 pinches of salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Cook until the greens are completely wilted, 2 to 3 minutes, using metal tongs to toss them.  Season with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Add more vinegar if needed.
*  Spread the beans on the toasts and top with wilted greens.

Tips:  Unless the kale or broccoli rabe is young and tender, parboil it before you sauté it – drop it in boiling water for a couple of minutes and drain before cooking.

Garlic Toasts
½ baguette, thinly sliced on a slight diagonal
Garlic Oil

*  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
*  Brush the baguette slices lightly with garlic oil and place on a baking sheet.  Bake until golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.

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2 thoughts on “Nettles, Chervil and Kale: Greens Restaurant Chef Shares Three Fresh Spring Favorites”

  1. douglas larsen

    I’ve been doing nettles and kale for 3 decades. I learned nettle soup from a Belgian woman in the outback of Spain where we foraged for them in the springtime. Potatoes & onions are essential.
    Also for years I have made an infusion of dried nettles with green tea for a morning wake up beverage.
    Kale, man, lacinato is my favorite. Somehow those Whole Foods people have taken to calling it dinosaur kale.
    Ah, well. The world is a dangerous and dumb neighborhood.
    I currently live in Costa Rica where kale just isn’t happening, at least not in my beachfront locale.
    Going back to Colorado soon and look forward to foraging for nettles and other greens creekside in my remote mountain home.
    Cheers to greens, and ciao.

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