Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stinging Nettle Gnocchi Recipe

stinging nettle gnocchi

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
1 egg
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?


Tau-Mu said...

The story is funny and the recipe is intriguing (healthy and dangerous!). Both versions look delish!

Chef E said...

I love this dancing bear! Have yet to use it, but yours is such a fun post!

Kristen Taylor said...

I am jealous of your father, being able to test both sauce versions. And I'm hoping to find nettles soon (their danger only makes them more enticing)--

Pekin Ogan said...

Hi Banu! Greetings from Lugano where the volcanic ash did not reach. But I thank the volcano for the lovely times i had with you in NYC. But we cannot go on meeting like this so we should get together again some time next month, perhaps out west in the US of A.. Waddayasay??
BTW the food you cook is divine, I am sooo lucky!!

Hathor's Bath said...

The nettles are out now, and I'm looking for a good place to harvest this week that is far away from the roads, so will be sure to try this.

Oh! I didn't ever find the title of the cookbook I was talking about which has stories as well as recipes, but I did find there's a new cookbook which does, called: The Turkish Cookbook: Regional Recipes and Stories.

Lou said...

I'm sure you've had dozens of awards/shout-outs/stalkers BUT I've nominated you for an award anyway....do with it as you see fit. Thank you for your blog

Banu said...

Tau-Mu: Thank you!

Chef E: you should try it; it is very versatile and so healthy. Just be careful about the sting!

Kristen: are you a member of the Park Slope food coop? Nettles have made an appearance there.

Pekin: Thanks! See you, and the rest of the family in Portland soon.

Hathor's Bath: would love to know what you make with your harvest, and thanks for sending the cookbook link.

Lou: a Sunshine Award! What an honor. Thank you so very much.

doggybloggy said...

what a great way to use stinging nettles - I bet a gnocchi made from ramps would be tasty too!

natural selection said...

You have brought back memories of me discovering stinging nettle the hard way!I have studied nettle in the past but never prepared it, you have inspired me and the recipes are beautiful, I wish I had been there for the taste test!

Photos fantastic!

Banu said...

doggybloggy: thanks, and yes, that sounds like a good idea.

natural selection: thank you, and yes, I didn't believe that nettle could sting so badly; it doesn't look so venomous, really.

Kathleen said...

Wow! Looks awesome. And you took me back to when I was 10 years old and visited my great-uncle Wayne who lived in East Texas out in the country. We took a walk along a dirt road and a saw this cool looking weed and pulled my barefoot back for a good kick before Uncle Wayne could warn me. OUCH! I know well the feel of skin coming in quick contact the stinking nettle! Never did that again! And from thence, he reminded me of what a city girl I was. Ouch, double sting! I'd like to give you recipe a try!

Bo said...

I have heard stinging nettle is good for stopping male hair loss.

Citrus Quark said...

great post. i just had my first and not-so-successful attempt at making gnocchi. I'll try your technique next time!

Banu said...

Kathleen: ouch! Thanks for sharing the story, and I hope you make the recipe (wearing gloves, of course)

Bo: didn't know that. Wow, there are so many uses for nettle.

Citrus Quark: thanks, and yeah, check out those videos; they were super helpful.

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