Although no longer considered essential to survival, wild foraging for ingredients has seen renewed interest over the past decade or so thanks in part to the success of the local food movement and to wild ingredients now being served more commonly in restaurants.
For those who have wanted to try their hand at foraging, stinging nettles are a perfect place for beginners. Easier to identify than they are to handle barehanded, nettles are an abundant plant, commonly found across Canada, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Their sting is nothing to be afraid of. Simply wearing a good pair of gardening gloves while you pick and process the leaves before cooking will keep you well protected.
Nettles begin to appear at the first sign of spring and are at their peak for consumption at this time. Their easily recognizable jagged leaves sit in pairs along a "hairy" square stem, where most of the stingers are concentrated. Look for bright green, new, young shoots and only pick the top four leaves or so from each plant. Try to collect from patches that are away from roadways or areas that may be contaminated by pesticides. Consider only picking a portion of each patch you come across. It may be more time consuming to collect what you need, but being mindful to leave plants behind to eventually go to seed will mean an abundance of nettles for next year.
Although most of us have encountered stinging nettles and know what to watch for to not get stung, as with all wild foraging, make sure you pick only plants you are able to identify with 100-per-cent certainty. When in doubt, refer to someone experienced for guidance.
Radishes and salted butter are a classic homestyle association often finding their way onto slabs of dense, leavened bread as open-faced sandwiches here in France. Creating a compound butter using the earthy flavour of foraged nettles and briny green olives take this old favourite to the next level.
The supercrispy, peppery crunch of freshly picked, in-season radishes are a must for the success of this recipe. Look for bunches that have their bright green tops still attached and are not at all wilted. Wash them well in ice water as soon as you bring them home, spin them dry in a salad spinner and store them in an airtight container wrapped in a slightly damp towel to help preserve their freshness for up to two days.
Compound butter is made by combining softened butter with other ingredients resulting in a flavour-enhanced spread that can readily be melted into a simple sauce perfect for cooked meat or vegetables, such ase corn on the cob for example. For this recipe, it is best to use a cultured butter. Often labelled as "Old Fashioned" or "European Style", cultured butter is made using a slightly higher-fat milk to which live bacteria cultures are added before churning. This results in a tangier, more richly flavoured end product. Not to knock the regular churned variety, but as the butter is the other star of this show, I find it best to use something with a little more interest if you can get your hands on it.