Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe
Stinging nettle is more common in Europe than it is in the United States, so it’s no wonder I first encountered it while hiking between Pringy and Pâquier, Switzerland. My then husband pointed out the nettle while describing a wild herb soup his mother used to make, and, eager to experiment, I pulled up a spiny stalk with my bare hands, too quick to heed his fervent admonitions as he watched me harvesting. Needless to say, we didn’t eat soup that evening, and I soothed the burning red welts on my hands for more than a day with healing clay.
But there is something seductive about an herb that can be so dangerous and so healthy at the same time. With some protection, and proper cooking technique, this defensive plant turns into a nurturer: long known as a medicinal herb for treating myriad conditions from arthritis to moodiness, it is high in vitamins A, B, C, D and K, and contains lots of protein, too. I wait eagerly every spring for the nettle to arrive at my food coop, and this week, after reading about Italian nettle gnocchi online, purchased several bunches, some for the gnocchi, and some to freeze for later, for that soup.
After a few minutes in simmering water the nettle loses its sting, and the cooking water becomes nettle tea. While it’s simmering, nettle smells and tastes vaguely of the sea, but mixed into these gnocchi, it adds a welcome touch of sweetness and a gorgeous deep green color. Inspired by this blog entry, I made two sauces for accompaniment: a cream sauce made by heating a little heavy cream with some garlic, sage, and melted Verde Capra, an Italian blue goats’ milk cheese (unspecific proportions; I suggest improvising), and, the following day, I added some crushed tomatoes to the leftover cream mixture to make a savory tomato-cream sauce.
My father, who was on his way to Milan, Italy on Friday when he was grounded by Eyjafjallajökull’s ash, ate both versions, and proclaimed the tomato-cream sauce superior. I agreed, thanked him for testing my humble first gnocchi, and now I'll thank you, too, Icelandic volcano, for allowing us to have to have some pretty great father-daughter time, with or without these gnocchi. Thank you, volcano. And now you can stop, ok? I've got a flight to Paris in a couple of weeks...
Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe
8 ounces nettle, rinsed, trimmed and blanched for 3-4 minutes, until tender (please wear gloves for the rinsing and trimming part)
5 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cubed, and cooked in simmering water until fork tender
about 2 cups of all-purpose flour with the germ
pinch of salt
After squeezing all the water out of the cooked nettle, whiz the nettle around in a food processor for a while, or chop it finely.
In a large bowl, mash the cooked potatoes and stir in the chopped nettle.
Turn the potato mixture out onto a floured surface, and make a well in the center. Add the egg and the flour, and working from the center out, gather all the potato and the flour until a soft ball forms. Do not overwork.
Form the dough into a large log (covering with flour if necessary), cut medium sized pieces from this log and form them into smaller, skinnier logs. Cut inch-long pieces from these skinny logs, and roll in flour.
Flour the back of a fork, and with your thumb, roll the individual gnocchi off the back of the fork, creating ridges on one side, and a concave area on the backside. These ridges will help hold the sauce.
For a first time gnocchi maker, I found it helpful to look at these gnocchi-making videos. That Claudio sure looks trustworthy, doesn't he?