02 May 2015

Weed Your Garden and Make Ravioli Gnudi with Nettles Recipe

Nettle Ravioli Gnudi with a Side of Smashed Cooked Cauliflower
Spring is here at last in full form and we all breath a sigh of collective relief. Ones attention turns toward activities that will take us outdoors after our winters nap and we fell the sun on our face and the fresh air fills our lungs. We can finally get our hands into the dirt and begin to plant that garden we've been thinking about all winter. We begin to eat a lighter fare after all of those hearty dishes of comfort that we rely upon to get us through times of cold and longing for the delicacies of summer. Naturally we dip back into those comfort foods at will, especially in the changeling seasons of spring and autumn before the season steadies on with, full on, hot or cold. However let us forage forward with a dish that is somewhere in between. 
A popular dish from the Tuscan region of Italy is called ravioli gnudi or naked ravioli. 
Adam and Eve "gnudi" - Mural Painting in the village of Usseaux
That's right folks, this is the ever popular spinach and ricotta filling rolled into balls and left without its pasta cloak on, then rolled in a bit of flour coating and lightly boiled. Once they have sunk to the bottom of the pan and then floated to the top, they are gently simmered for a short time. They are lifted out and drained of water and tossed into to your favorite sauce, and voila`, springtime is served up.
Stinging Nettles in the wild
Naturally, I took a turn and headed for the garden and after pulling a copious amount of stinging nettles from between my currant and raspberry canes, I became inspired to swap out the nettles for the spinach and use rice instead of wheat flour to make them suitable for celiacs or gluten intolerant folks. The way these are boiled by gently dropping them into the water, where they promptly sink, and then waiting for them to come bobbing back up to the surface and simmer just ever so slightly, is reminiscent to me of our beloved northern gnocchi. It's the same cooking method and determination for doneness. For this subtly flavored wild green, that loses its ferocious sting once it is cooked, I used a simple butter, walnut and chicken stock combination to showcase and elevate the nettle flavor as well as add the Piemontese favored walnut for added texture. It all worked very well I think.  
Italians are very fond of stinging nettles or "ortiche" as they are called in Italian and are liberally used in soups, tea, pasta, crepes and any  filling that would use spinach. They are purported to have a fair amount of health benefits, such as helping to reduce hypertension, and asthma,  relieve arthritis and menopause, encourage milk production in lactating women, break down kidney stones, and help with diabetes, just to name a few. Maybe it does or doesn't do these things, but they are tasty and a change from your regular spinach consumption. 
Please note.
While I do recommend that you give these a try when you find some nettles that haven't gotten too old or gone to seed, if possible. The younger plants flavor is mild like spinach, but do be forewarned, they sting like the dickens, so wear protective gloves and maybe even long sleeves when picking them and kitchen gloves when cleaning them. *When cleaning them, give them a thorough water rinse, using a good slug of vinegar if you want to make sure and get them thoroughly clean, and don't forget to wear your kitchen glove.  Drain and sauté them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter till they wilt , adding a bit of water so that they cooked through. Squeeze them dry before chopping and adding them to the ricotta. If you aren't able to find any nettles or aren't so adventuresome, then by all means, replace the nettles with an equal amount of spinach.

There are a number of recipes you can find online, but I modified and put my own spin on Barbara Elisi's recipe that you will find here.  

Stinging Nettle and Ricotta Ravioli Gnudi


250 g (9 oz) ricotta (drained by setting on a sieve or strainer)

250 g (9 oz) fresh nettles (*cleaned, see note above, cooked, drained, squeezed dry and chopped)

1 egg, medium

100 g / 1/2 generous cup, Parmesan cheese, grated

1 or 2 T of rice flour ( if the dough looks too soft add a tablespoon or two)

1-2 T  olive oil or butter to sauté the greens

Rice flour ( for rolling the formed balls in before simmering in water)


Wear gloves to pick and clean the nettles
Weed your garden or find a patch of nettles and pick a goodly amount of nettles to bring home and clean. 

  • Set the ricotta in a strainer to drain the water off. 
  • Strip the leaves from the stalks, discarding the stalks and place in a bowl and cover with fresh water and swish around letting set to let debris fall to the bottom of the bowl. 
  • Discard and repeat the process till the greens are clean, as mentioned above. Drain the greens of water.
  • Sauté in a small amount of oil or butter till wilted and cooked.
  • Squeeze dry (gloves not really necessary now)
  • Chop the greens small.
Once all the ingredients are ready,

  • Whisk the egg lightly in a medium bowl and add the ricotta and nettles and mix lightly just to combine.
  • Add rice flour if you find the batter too soft to manage.
  • Fill a roomy pasta sized cooking pot full of salted water to a boil.
  • Using a teaspoon or your hands and drop small amounts of your mixture onto a rice floured surface or drop rounded  nettle ricotta balls into a small bowl with rice flour and roll around to shape into balls and coat with the flour. 
  • Set the coated balls aside until your water is boiling and your sauce is ready to go.
  • Roll the batter spoonfuls into the flour and then 
  • Drop into the boiling water. 
  • When the gnudi emerge on the surface of the water, boil a further 1 minute or so and
  • Gently drain with a skimmer. 
Combine with Walnut Butter Sauce sauce and serve.

Butter Walnut sauce: 

100g butter (sometimes I use less butter and add a bit of chicken or veggie stock to lighten it up )
200 g walnut, rough chopped medium
Melt your butter and add you r chopped walnuts and cook lightly till bubbly.
Add your hot cooked ravioli gnudi.

Mix to coat and serve hot with a generous grating of Parmesan on top.

Ricottan and Nettles mixed

All rolled in rice flour and waiting to be boiked
Ready to go into the sauce
Voila' Nettle Ravioli gnudi is served

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