Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Is the New Spring: Nettle Gnocchi


Inhofe and his ilk can bury their heads in the D.C. snow and deny climate change, but here in the Pacific Northwest we just experienced the warmest January on record. Not the warmest in 10 years, not the warmest in a generation—the warmest since scientists first started keeping track, going back to 1891 in the case of Seattle. This is just one of many indicators—from melting glaciers in the Cascades to the changing migration patterns of birds, butterflies, and fish—that a degree or two of rising mercury is remaking the planet in dramatic ways.

The results of our balmy mid-winter beach break have been painfully clear, so to speak. Stinging nettles in the lowlands are already at harvestable size, with some well over a foot tall. I harvested my first batch on February 8. That's two weeks earlier than my previous earliest date. In fact, this year I could have found tender young nettles of six inches or so at the end of January.

To re-phrase an old saw, if the world gives you stinging nettles, make Nettle Gnocchi.

Whenever I make a potato-based gnocchi (as opposed to semolina-based) I'm always skeptical until the little pillows are safely plated and intact. So much can seemingly go wrong (though it usually works out). I improvised on the same recipe as the one for Oxtail & Porcini Gnocchi, which is based on a recipe from 101 Cookbooks. But after making gnocchi a handful of times in the past year I can say that recipes for potato dumplings are more like guidelines. The important thing is to get a feel for the dough. I don't think I've ever used the same amount of flour twice, and this is especially true when adding a wet ingredient such as boiled nettles to the mix.

So think of the amounts below as estimates. The best thing to do is start with less than the full cup of flour and then keep adding. You may end up using well over a cup as I did.

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup nettles, boiled and chopped
1 cup or more flour
salt to taste

1. Boil nettles for a minute or two to neutralize sting. Remove to cold water. Next wring out excess water. Chop nettles, measure out a cup and then whir in a food processor.

2. Cut potatoes in half and boil in salted nettle water until tender, thirty minutes or more. Remove from water one at a time and peel. Break down potatoes with a fork and allow to cool. Make sure to attack lumps but don't over-mash.

3. Mix nettles into potatoes by hand, a little at a time.

4. Sprinkle a handful of flour over your work space. Pull potato-nettle mixture into a mound on floured surface and make a volcano-like crater. Pour beaten egg into crater and sprinkle 3/4 of the flour over top. Start working the dough with metal spatulas or your hands, adding more flour and folding the dough into itself as you go. I find this step gets messy unless I make sure to use plenty of flour.

5. Split the dough into 5 or 6 balls. The dough is ready when you can easily roll out each ball into a long snake. Again, a work surface dusted generously with flour makes this easier. Now cut into pillows.

6. Add gnocchi to salted boiling water. (You can re-use your nettle-potato water.) When they float to the surface they're done. Remove with a slotted spoon.

I ate my Nettle Gnocchi with two different sauces. A simple red sauce with grated parm works quite nicely, the acidity of the tomatoes marrying well with the high green note of the nettles.

But even better, in my opinion, is—surprise!—a sweet, herbed cream sauce. I know, my love for the cream sauce seems to know no bounds. Just trust me. For this more decadent preparation, try briefly sauteing fresh chopped herbs from the garden (I used sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and chives) in butter, splashing with a little cognac that bubbles off (but not before leaving a pleasant sweetness), and finishing with heavy cream. Pour over the gnocchi and sprinkle with parmesan. As you can see from my picture below I was in a bit of a hurry to eat this meal. I used half-and-half, which separated somewhat from the butter. Still, it was an amazing lunch.

19 comments:

Ciao Chow Linda said...

yes, warm weather just in time for the winter olympics! You're so right about the amount of flour needed for gnocchi - it varies each time. I love the idea of using stinging nettles with this - something I haven't tried but would love to.

Renai said...

Ooooh yum. This looks and sounds wonderful. I'm thinking that this year will be my first venture into harvesting and working with nettles- so I'll keep this recipe in mind!

megan said...

I am so sad that my love for nettles comes at a climate cost... Nettle and ricotta, nettle gnocchi, nettle soup... it's time to buy more gloves.

Stephanie H. said...

I'm here on the East Coast--even with all this snow, the temperatures aren't any lower than usual. It's just a lot of extra moisture in the air.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Early for nettles here in NorCal, too. Lowlands are already done, unless you find wood nettles in the shade. We're moving onto fiddleheads now.

On the gnocchi, you ever try using a russet potato? I always use floury potatoes in my gnocchi; I get lighter results that way, but I know each recipe is different...

LC said...

Ciao Chow Linda - Never tried Nettle Gnocchi? Don't you have an Italian grandmother?!

Renai - Make 2010 your Year of the Nettle and soon you'll be wondering why it wasn't 2009--or earlier.

Megan - No doubt many of the weeds are loving this new climate regime. Time to broaden our food horizons...

Stephanie H - I wonder if this big snow year on the East Coast will delay the ramp harvest. I've been wanting to get in on that.

Hank - I like Yukon Gold because they're flavorful and they deconstruct well. Both YG and russet are good choices on the floury front. But to be truthful, for this gnocchi I actually used a mixture of 1 russet and 1 Yukon Gold because that's what I had on hand. Next time I want to fry them to see how the nettle-infused gnocchi stands up to the pan. Gnocchi is good action, n'est-ce pas?

r. hurd said...

I am so pumped to read some hunt posts. Food is great too, and when we get some venison recipes from you I will be ever so satisfied.

Lo said...

*drool*
I guess this means I'll be getting jealous of your nettle finds early this year. Starting... now. Gorgeous gnocchi... will definitely keep it in mind for that point in time when I find myself some fresh nettles.

Tom F said...

I keep meaning to try to make gnocci, the Trader Joe's version is a big favorite around here. Thanks for the reminder and recipe!

Hope you're on the mend.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Oui. Definitely need to make more gnocchi soon. Been on a ravioli-polenta-risotto kick lately...

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Beautifully done. Nice to get some nettles though as you say, it is worrying to get them so early in the year.

Since you are using foraged nettles, would you like to enter this post in our Grow Your Own roundup this month? Full Details at

http://chezannies.blogspot.com/2010/02/announcing-grow-your-own-39.html

Perry said...

Its been a weird winter in Northern CA as well. Rain was on time, and then never took a break. I started finding repandums in mid december. I typically dont find any until at least the first or second week in January at the earliest. Nettles are up here too, wacky...

Un--Urban said...

Hey,
Sat in on your talk down here in Tacoma the University of Puget Sound. I've been a mushroom/clam/fish gather-guy but finally transcended into nettles! Thanks for the motivation, gotta try the gnocchi soon. I used Euell Gibbons method and threw them in rinsed with some butter in a pan. Fantastic! Thanks for the great read!

Ruralrose said...

Wonderful post, thanks for all the details. Peace

Campchan said...

I just made your gnocci recipe. It was wonderful and the nettles were growing right out my front door (literally 15 feet...talk about local!). I only have one small injury on my ring finger from harvesting! And, you were right...cognac makes a nice addition to the cream sauce! I only wish that I had picked the miner's lettuce for the accompanying salad!

LC said...

r. hurd - I hope you don't have to hold your breath tooo long for those venison recipes...

Lo - Must be getting closer to nettle season for you, yes?

Tom F - We've had the TJ's gnocchi too. Good but not the feather-light homemade variety. Get after it!

Hank - Ravioli--now that can make gnocchi look like fast food!

Nate- Did I miss another Grow Your Own? Will check it out.

Perry - Nice on the repandums. I didn't hit my hog spots this past year, too busy with other stuff. Still might have some '08 in the freezer.

Un-Urban - That was great crowd at UPS. I'll be at Garfield Book Co. in Tacoma tomorrow with a new slideshow.

Ruralrose - Thanks, glad you liked it.

Campchan - Thanks for the miner's lettuce reminder. Need to check my spots!

Banu said...

You inspired me: http://www.ahungrybearwontdance.com/2010/04/stinging-nettle-gnocchi-recipe.html

louis said...

Beautifully done. Nice to get some nettles though as you say, it is worrying to get them so early in the year.

katie said...

Just bought a bag of nettles from my favourite forager. I also just discovered your blog. And Gnocchi's are one of my favourite things in the world. Today is a happy day! Cheers!