Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stinging Nettle Gnudi with Sage Butter & White Truffles

Stinging nettles are emerging right on schedule in Puget Sound. I've written reams in the past about my weed crush on nettles, so click on the link above if you want to learn more about their natural history and culinary applications.

Figuring the dastardly yet oh-so-tasty greens were bound to be up by now, I went for a walk this past weekend in a Seattle green space with my son to check on signs of life. Spring premonitions were everywhere: Indian plum leafing out, towhees trilling their cat-like songs, street corner sandwich boards advertising little league tryouts. Sure enough, stinging nettles—always one of the first splashes of chlorophyl on an otherwise drab, mid-winter floor—peeked out from the leaf litter like groundhogs nosing out of burrows on shadow patrol, some of them just barely tall enough for harvest.

Riley demonstrated one of his favorite skills learned at Wilderness Camp: he carefully picked a nettle leaf with his bare hand by pinching its hairless top and folded it over several times into a little package which he then popped into his mouth and ate. Look Dad, no sting! We went to a regular spot and harvested a grocery bag worth of tender young nettle tops.

This time Riley wasn't so lucky. He got stung on his calf, his youthful skin immediately turning red with little raised welts. Nearby he found a frond of licorice fern with visible spores underneath and rubbed it vigorously on the affected area. This noted folk remedy has never worked for me personally, but Riley insisted that the fern did the trick. I took a look and was surprised to see that the redness and welts were really gone. Next time we might harvest that licorice fern for food, too.

Nettle Gnocchi has been a go-to recipe in recent years, but until the other day I had never made...

Nettle Gnudi

Yep, naked—as in naked ravioli. Gnudi are basically ravioli fillings without their pasta clothing. You mix a bit of flour into the cheese filling and shape it into little balls or pillows. You can serve them boiled, but I like adding one more step and pan-frying the gnudi so that the rich, creamy inside is contrasted by the fried exterior. Finely chopped nettles (or spinach or herbs) add an extra dimension of flavor. It's up to you how much herbage to add. I didn't want my gnudi to be overpowered by the nettles, so I limited mine to a scant, loose cup; you could double that amount and end up with much greener, woodsier gnudi.

2 cups ricotta
3/4 cup grated parmesan
2 eggs
1 cup boiled and chopped nettles
1/2 cup flour, plus more for rolling
1/8 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
olive oil
fresh sage, chopped

1. Blanche stinging nettles in boiling water for a minute. Drain, shock with cold water, and squeeze out as much excess water as possible. Chop finely to fill a loose cup.

2. Drain ricotta and stir into large bowl with parmesan, eggs, chopped nettles, a dash of nutmeg, and seasoning. Slowly add flour. Mixture should be damp and tacky without sticking to hands. If a half cup of flour doesn't do the trick, keep adding a little more at a time until you can form a wet ball in your hand without it adhering.

3. Sprinkle work surface generously with flour. Take a snowball-sized handful of cheese mixture and roll in flour until thoroughly coated. Roll out into a snake with a half-inch to inch diameter depending on preference. Cut into pillows. Dredge the cut ends in flour and shape each pillow as desired. Set aside on floured plate.

4. Boil gnudi in batches in salted water. They're done when they float to the surface. Use a slotted spoon to remove from boiling water to a clean plate. Place cooked gnudi on wax paper on a cookie sheet. I like to boil a batch after each snowball's worth of filling is shaped. While that batch is boiling (it only takes a couple minutes), I move the previous boiled batch from plate to wax paper. Then I continue with another handful.

5. Pan fry gnudi in olive oil and butter with chopped sage leaves until nicely browned. Leftover boiled gnudi can be refrigerated.

Nettle Gnudi with Lamb Ragu, Carrot Puree & Sage Butter Crumbs

For a more involved dish I made a lamb shoulder ragu by browning diced lamb shoulder in olive oil with shallot, deglazing with a splash of white wine, and stirring in a teaspoon of tomato paste. This got served over the pan-fried gnudi along with a sauce of pureed stewed carrots and a sprinkling of sage butter crumbs.

Gnudi are easier to make than potato gnocchi, and the melt-in-your-mouth inside is a truly wonderful thing. Another reason to get yer weed on.


Keith said...

Excellent post! Good to see a young chap interested in this sort of thing.
Regards, Keith.

Langdon Cook said...

Always good to hear from you, Le Loup. Happy hunting.

Ruth Trowbridge said...

Now this is a mouthwatering recipe I will try today. But mostly I wanted to stop in to comment on how awesome Riley is, spawn off the ol' forager for sure! While we still have snow here, am I to understand white truffles are ready when nettles are just starting? Peace

test said...

De ser meget nice! Tak for deling!

Tara said...

Great to know the nettles should be popping up! I will check the woods here in Paris this week.

Anonymous said...

Just finished your book and had to find your blog. Great first read, now I'll read for clues to sites and savor the recipes. See ya at South Sound Mushroom Clubs meeting.

PlateauGardener said...

We're in Enumclaw and I went out looking this morning, but didn't see any. Perhaps it is still a bit too early here, or I'm not looking in the right places. I'll try again later in the week. Thanks for your very informative posts!

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks for the spring preview, Lang. The gnudi look great. We've had an extremely mild--and disappointingly snowless--winter here, but still can't hope for green stuff for a few weeks. Do you have wood nettles out there?


Langdon Cook said...

Ruth -There are two species of Oregon white truffle, with a winter and spring variety, respectively, which means a nettle pairing is in the wheelhouse, but don't try to time truffle availability by nettle season. And you're right about Riley. You should see him wield a flyrod!

Tara - Temperate maritime climates are always first, then the interior. Good luck!

PNWNana - I'm looking forward to it, with some delectable slides.

PlateauGardener - Too early yet for Enumclaw but won't be long...

Brett - I've seen wood nettle before but haven't tried it. How do they compare? BTW, I'll be reviewing your book in the near future...

Trout Caviar said...

Very young wood nettles are among my favorite wild greens to eat straight up--that is, just steamed, or blanched and sautéed. And they're among the earliest green things here, making them especially treasured. They have a nice al dente quality to them when lightly steamed, and a mild, green-beany flavor. They're generally more tender than stinging nettles. For that savory depth in a broth or soup, though, they don't stand up to stinging nettles. They DO, however, more than match them in stinging quality, despite their innocuous name.

Hope you're enjoying my expanded vision of the forager's purview. I've had enough of "foraging" at the co-op and in my freezer, and am eager to get back out in the woods come spring! Well, even sooner it's sugaring time, as soon as I can get the taps in.


Mary said...

Hi Langdon, I'm glad to have discovered your blog. My kids also did WAS and learned all those tricks about harvesting nettles and relieving their sting. WAS was really a great experience for our family, not just the skills but the whole attitude they learned.

Sunny Diaz said...

These are the best. I just made a batch (haven't pan fried them yet) and will post it to my blog soon with a link back here. Never going back to store bought gnocchi or gnudi, these are just too good and easy to make.

Iris said...

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