In my recent food blog roamings I’ve been seeing Spring nettle recipes. So, when I stumbled across nettles at the farmer’s market over the weekend I was curious. I picked up a bag and grabbed one of the heads of cauliflower overflowing from the stands around the market. I also vowed to plant tulips next year (or, really, plant anything at all…).
Nettles in hand, I took to the internet when we got home. After inspiration from these beautiful recipes for nettle ravioli and pasta, I decided that was it — I would make nettle pasta! So, for the first time since 2004, I pulled out my pasta roller. (Yes — that’s 7 years, 4 different states and 3 cross-country drives since I last used it. Totally absurd.)
Next, I had to prep the nettles. I had no idea which part of the plant was edible. The whole thing (stem inclusive)? The little seed pods that were falling off absolutely everywhere? A little googling later, I found out that people tend to just eat the leaves. Ideally, a thin pair of gloves would have been nice, but I didn’t have anything particularly suitable.
It took a while to strip the nettle clippings of their leaves. There’s loads of leaves. They’re small. And I was trying to be careful to not prick the crap out of my fingers, so I wasn’t moving fast. I was making this on a Monday night and I found myself getting a little anxious about how long it was taking. I think it would be a better Sunday afternoon project.
Eventually, I had a pile of leaves. The common way to deactivate the stingers of the nettles is to blanch them (I’m not exactly sure how the deactivation process works — as in, whether it’s chemical or physical). After blanching, typically people drain their nettles, and then squeeze them as dry as possible before adding them to other dishes. Since my nettles were going to be boiled in the process of making the pasta, I decided to skip this step. Instead, I went straight to throwing the nettles in the food processor to chop them up.
Next, I added the nettles, flour, egg and salt to my stand mixer. This is when I discovered that making pasta dough in a mixer is miraculously easy (I have no idea why it’s been 7 years since I last made pasta).
The dough then needed to rest for a little while, so I took to chopping up the cauliflower, tossing it in a coarse sea salt and deeply flavored olive oil, and putting it all in the oven.
For the second batch, I used a rolling pin. Why? I wanted to see how hard it was to make pasta without a pasta roller (conclusion: using a rolling pin and hand cutting the pasta is no problem at all, so don’t go out and buy a pasta roller unless you want one). I also tried hand-cutting because I like the way wide pasta noodles, like pappardelle, look and hold up against bite-sized pieces of cauliflower and my pasta roller doesn’t seem to have a wide cutting option.
By the time the pasta was done being rolled, sliced and cooked, the cauliflower was finished up. We mixed them up together and voila!
The cauliflower was spectacular. The flavors were great together. I like nettles, with their bitter green, strong taste. We even had a see-Mary-in-the-burnt-toast moment, when Alex found a heart in his pasta. I think it was a sign that we’re supposed to make pasta more frequently. It loves us! We love it!
But, I have a confession: my pasta was too thick. I was going to re-make the pasta later this week, but cleaning the nettles took so long that I don’t really want to do it again. Since I’m not gathering them myself, I’d rather just pay the same amount at the farmer’s market for a different green that I can rinse, chop and be done with.
So, that’s this year’s story of nettle pasta. I’ll make pasta again soon (tonight?) and work on getting my technique just right. I’ll even make this exact same dish with another green (chard!). But, I think I’ll only make a nettle dish once a year. Am I discouraging you from making nettle pasta? NO! The flavors are wonderful and uniquely Spring. So, make it once a year and enjoy.
A few places where I went wrong in this dish (in retrospect):
- Blanching the nettle leaves not only deactivates the sting, but also makes it easier to chop the nettles very, very finely. So, if you want to have a smoother and deeper green color (not as speckled as my dough), you should blanch your nettles.
- For the linguine, I should have rolled the dough flat (through the flat rollers at the back of the machine) before I fed it through the part that cuts it. Oops. Here’s a close-up of my bad technique. I should be feeding a flat sheet in there!
- For the papardelle, I should have rolled it thinner. I thought it felt thin, but I should have rolled it as thin as I could possibly make it. It seems that with a rolling pin it takes a bit of work to get an even and thin sheet.
So, with those lessons in mind, here’s the new and improved recipe:
Stinging Nettle Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
Pasta (adapted from Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza and Calzone)
Makes about 4 servings
- 2 c nettles (or another green), packed
- 2 c all purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 t salt
- water, as needed (~ 1 T)
Blanch nettles. Dry them well with towels. Finely chop with a knife (I put the nettles in a food processor, but if they’re blanched it would be just as easy to do with a knife and less clean-up. Plus, you can probably get a finer result if you do it by hand).
Add flour, nettles, egg and salt to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Use the paddle attachment at a low speed to bring the ingredients together. At this point, they may not form a cohesive ball of dough. If that’s the case add just a tiny splash of water and keep mixing until the dough barely holds together. The dough should not be wet. Add water very slowly, 1/2 t at a time. The amount of water you need will vary on the brand of flour, how densely packed your cups of flour were, the size of your egg and the season.
After the dough comes together, switch to the dough hook and knead for another 5 min, or until dough is smooth. Cover dough and let rest for 30 min (longer is fine).
After 30 min, divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each piece flat, either through a pasta roller or with a rolling pin. Let the flat sheet sit for about 10 minutes, until it has a slightly dry, leathery feeling. Cut the pasta (either with the pasta roller or a knife).
- 1 large head of cauliflower, or approximately 4 c
- 2 T flavorful olive oil
- sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Chop cauliflower into bite-sized florets and put in roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over cauliflower and sprinkle with salt. Stir everything around to coat the cauliflower (I use my hands…). Cook for approximately 70 minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and tender all the way through.
- 1 T olive oil (since there’s some olive oil coming from the cauliflower, I made the dressing light on the olive oil.)
- 2 T lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
- zest from 1 lemon
Combine in a small jar or juice glass. Shake or stir vigorously.
- freshly grated Parmesan, to taste
- freshly cracked pepper, to taste
All together, now!
After pasta is cooked and drained, toss with dressing until the pasta is coated. You could toss in cauliflower, too, but I prefer to layer the two on the plate, to make sure no one plate gets too much pasta or cauliflower. To do this, add a couple pasta ribbons, then add cauliflower. Add more ribbons, then add more cauliflower. Keep going until you have enough food on your plate. At the end, top with Parmesan and pepper.