I am hoping that I was interpreting my husband's gesture as a sincere one and not a comment on my personality when he bought me some stinging nettles the other day.
He was so proud of what he had found at the market "The Wild foods guy was at the market today, look what I got for you!" He thrusts a large plastic bag of weeds at me. Apparently he (Wild foods guy, not my husband) had foraged an ample amount for the restaurant industry and there were plenty of leftovers. Which is good for me. I love nettles, this is an eager spring treat that I start fantasizing about in the depths of January.
Stinging nettle grows around the world in fertile soil, it is usually an indicator that spring is at hand and is featured in many different cuisines. As a flavouring in cheese, or on its own to create pestos, soups, and as a vegetable combined with various spices in India.
It can be used instead of spinach but where as many people say it tastes the same, I disagree. Nettles have sweeter more tender taste and texture. There is no heavy metallic after taste from nettles like there is if spinach is cooked too long. The cooking process is in fact what renders them edible (do not try eating them raw, just like handeling you will get stung and nobody wants to see that!).
I don't think different populations around the world would create nettle entrees, use it as a flavouring (think gouda), and drink its flowers if it had the same properties as spinach- why go through all that trouble, especially considering the pain it can cause if handled incorrectly?
This is my attempt at the recipe. Mostly we make this by the seat of our pants so feel free to interpret it any way you want and increase it to feed more mouths!
Stinging Nettle Ricotta Ravioli
If using homemade ricotta and pasta sheets, this can be a long preparation and I would caution you to start earlier in the day!
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta (either homemade or store bought)
- 1/2 lb nettles (1/4 cup cooked) stalks removed, rinsed and picked through.
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- salt & pepper
- a scant pinch of grated nutmeg and cinnamon
- 4 thin homemade pasta sheets approximately 5 X 12 inches or wonton wrappers (come in convenient packs and freeze well) * I don't think store bough fresh lasagne sheets would work well here, they are coated with an excess of flour and tend to be too thick.
A simple Sauce
- unsalted butter
- olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves lightly crushed
- salt & pepper to taste
- flat leaf (italian) parsley
*Please use heavy rubber gloves when handling the stinging nettle. Plastic bags are not good enough- no matter how careful you are!
If using homemade, make your ricotta, second make your fresh pasta dough. Allowing plenty of time to drain the cheese and rest the dough. After resting the dough for half an hour roll out your sheets for pasta a little thinner than you would a lasagne sheet. On my machine (kitchen aid) that is a 7. Making sure to lightly flour and keep each sheet well covered until ready to use.
The longer you leave the ricotta to drain the drier it will be but for this purpose a little drier is better.
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Wearing heavy gloves, separate the nettle leaves from the stalks of the plant, give a couple of rinses (this is usually not factory cleaned) and boil for a few minutes until all the leaves are limp and bright (spring time) green. Drain, remove any obvious pieces of grass, twigs or other plant material, squeeze excess moisture out and set aside. Don't worry the nettle is now safe to touch!
Combine ricotta, parmesan cheese, minced garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, egg yoke and well drained nettle leaves in a bowl. Combine with a fork shredding the leaves and integrating all of the components.
Take your pasta sheets fold in half lengthwise to give your self a visual marker. Using a teaspoon place dollops of the cheese/nettle mixture in the centre of one half of the opened sheet, roughly an inch and a half apart. If your sheet is too long to handle, cut to a smaller more manageable length.
Fold the sheet back over its self, pressing down and creating seams between each pocket, making a pillow. Using a sharp knife cut the pillows into squares and apply pressure to the seams to ensure a tight seal. If using wonton wrappers put one dollop of mixture in the centre of one round and top with a second round (you may have to lightly dampen the edges), press edges together and trim any excess.
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the ravioli. As the water is coming to a boil make the sauce (I didn't give any measurements for this) in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Heat equal parts butter and oil (perhaps a few tablespoons of each) in a pan, with the crushed garlic cloves, stir so that the butter gets a bit nutty and the garlic infuses. Meanwhile boil the ravioli until they float and look like nice fluffy pillows- 5 mins at the most! Drain, removing as much liquid as you can. Plate immediately, drizzle the simple sauce, salt and pepper to taste, garnish with flat leaf parsley and a grating of parmesan cheese if you wish.
Serves 2 as a single meal or a family of 4 with all the trimmings. Approximately twenty 2 inch square ravioli.
photos by me.
Mark Bittman has a smilar recipe using spinach that was probably my first inspiration.