Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stinging Nettle Lasagna with Dandelion Salad

"Wake up, it's spring!" sing the critters in my daughter's favorite book of the moment. Indeed. It's about time for a shot of vernal equinox. For those of us who need an extra boost, try mainlining a dose of spring with Stinging Nettle Lasagna, the perfect way to ring in the season. Nettles have been used for millennia to transition the body from the rigors of a long winter. Their taste is wild and woolly—far less housebroken than spinach. And nutritionally, they make spinach look like junk food.

Coupled with a Dandelion Salad, you can't do yourself better.

For the lasagna, first make the sauce and let it simmer while you're tending to the other ingredients. All you need is a simple red sauce:

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
Several cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
oregano and/or basil to taste
1 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Saute onions and garlic until soft. Pour in diced tomatoes and simmer, adding water occasionally to cook down tomatoes. Cook at least 30 minutes (the longer, the better) before adding tomato paste, herbs, and sugar. This will make more than enough sauce for a large lasagna.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the pasta and filling:

12 lasagna noodles
1 32 oz tub of ricotta cheese
1 16 oz ball of mozzarella, grated
Large bunch of stinging nettles, washed and chopped (4-6 cups cooked)

Boil a large pot of water for nettles and lasagna. Blanch stinging nettles 1 minute, remove to salad spinner to drain excess water, and chop. In large bowl mix together nettles and ricotta cheese. Cook pasta in same boiling water, now green with all sorts of good vitamins and nutrients, until al dente. Layer 13 x 9 inch baking dish with enough sauce to cover bottom. Arrange 3-4 lasagna noodles. Cover with 1/2 nettle-ricotta mixture. Spoon over sauce and sprinkle with 1/3 mozzarella. Repeat: noodles, remaining nettle-ricotta mixture, sauce, and 1/3 mozzarella. Add one more layer of noodles followed by remaining sauce and final 1/3 mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes.

For the Dandelion Salad, go snip some dandelion leaves in your yard or a nearby park. Make sure you select only those tender young dandelions that haven't bloomed yet. Mix the leaves with lettuce or other spring greens.

Voila: A shot of vernal equinox. Happy spring everyone!


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of foraging in your own backyard (or local park, vacant lot, etc.) Who needs herbicides!? All you need to do is get out there and harvest in the early spring, then dig the suckers up right before they're ready to bloom--save yourself some money, add a little oomph to your salad, and keep the yucky chemicals out of our rivers and lakes. And they taste at least as good as any lettuce you can purchase for $2+ a head at Safeway.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! I can taste it now. After reading your recipe I was thinking "as soon as spring comes..., but then realized that I could use some of my dried nettles from last season. I think I might also make the noodles. Have you ever done that?

Thanks for sharing and enjoy the gifts from above.

Langdon Cook said...

Definitely make your own noodles if you have the time. As Marcella Hazan says, "...there is nothing packed in a box that can lead to the flavor of the lasagna you can produce in your kitchen." This is pretty good advice about food and eating in general, as I discussed in this post. Besides, making pasta can be an event in itself. Invite a bunch of friends over to help and drink lots of red wine!

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