Wednesday, October 22, 2014

gnocchi di ortica, cacio e pepe

You would think that nettle is a spring harvest, and it is, but for some reason it's growing in my garden now, in fall. Believe it or not, tomatoes and eggplants are still producing this time of year. It's like having a greenhouse without a greenhouse, in summer that's not summer, yet it's fall but not fall ... you know what I mean? My vegetables are having an identity crisis! And so am I.  I'm sweating, wearing sandals and eating tomatoes in October as if it were July. 

Nettle has been growing wild and fastidiously, it proliferates between my tomato paths and cabbage trails, next to the kale and the eggplants and right in the middle of my misticanza (small mixed salad).  I've tried to eradicate it and it keeps growing, the more I rip, the more it grows, the more it grows, the more I'm stinged and the more I find myself with rashes. Then, while I was on the web searching for something that could alleviate my rash, I learned that nettle juice would have eased the stinging of the rash brought about by contact with the plant's own bristle leaves. Isn't that unbelievable?! Finally, I understood that this arm wrestling thing would bring nowhere. I needed to understand this herb, which I always thought was a weed, and get along with it. 

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value — our "modern" diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs . . . those plants which — although not well-known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored "guests" on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents' homes.  Mother Nature News

When cooked, nettles lose their sting and have a similar flavour to spinach. They are a good source of vitamin C, iron, and calcium and also provide a surprising amount of protein. They can be eaten raw, although we certainly don’t recommend it, and a World Nettle Eating Championship is held every year at the Bottle Inn, Dorset, England. Young Veggie

Nettles were one of the main ingredients in English beer until the 1800s. Nettle beer, wine, champagne and cordial are all still commercially available. Young Veggie

Stinging nettles provide the only food for many species of butterfly larva. Young Veggie
Nettle is the secret green ingredient for my gnocchi.  Secret ... because you would never guess that I harvested nettle in fall. Of course you don't need to wait for spring to make these gnocchi, in lack of nettle, you can use chard, spinach, kale and whatever sweet green comes to your mind. They'll be just as good.

Young and tender nettle tips is what you're looking for.  Be sure to use gloves and scissors when you are in contact with raw nettle.  The stinging effect will cease only once it's cooked, and you can manage it safely with your bare hands.  Briefly boil the nettle for 1 minute and plung into ice water. Drain and chop roughly.  like to see the greens that stand out, this is why I prefer to chop them roughly.  Otherwise, you can cut the greens really thin and this will give your gnocchi a green uniform color.

To make perfect gnocchi, read this article from Food & Wine.
Once your gnocchi dough is ready, fold in the cooked and chopped nettle.   A handful would be enough in an amout of gnocchi dough for four people. 

The sauce. I find that cacio e pepe is definitely the perfect sauce for these gnocchi, it somehow enhances the flavour of the potatoes and brings out the grassy aromatic scent of the nettle.  My way of making cacio e pepe for any kind of pasta is easy.   

While the gnocchi are in the boiling water, preheat a large pan.  Place some freshly grated cheese, a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, and half a cup of the gnocchi's cooking water in the pan and let it sit on low heat until the gnocchi are ready.  Don't let the gnocchi overcook, drain them as soon as they float on the surface and place them in the pan let the watery cheese mixture absorb in the gnocchi by moving and tossing the gnocchi with the pan and without the use of a spoon, keep rotating the pan, add some freshly ground pepper and more cheese. Keep moving the pan around.  This should take no more than a minute from when you drain the gnocchi and place them in the pan.

Serve hot and dust with more cheese and some more freshly grounded pepper.    


  1. Who would've thought to use nettles?! You're brilliant! Look forward to trying this out! xo

    1. Hi Asima :) Thank you. Watch out for the sting!

  2. Comfort food from a spring herb that is growing in the garden in autumn. What else can you want?
    I love the first picture. The green stands out so nicely.

    1. The weather changed just one day after I posted this....from hot to freezing cold and good bye to the nettle! Talking about identity crisis.

  3. Secondo me, la crisi d'identità, non la sta avendo solo la tua ortica :-) Credimi, in un solo giorno siamo passati dalla canotta ai maglioni di lana! Davvero un bel modo per usarla, mi piacerebbe provare! Un abbraccio

    1. Non ho certo inventato nulla ma sicuramente questi cibi vanno usati di più. Anche perché, quando è il loro tempo, li trovi ovunque basta cercarli, a volte anche semplicemente nel proprio giardino o passeggiando per boschi o prati...insomma bisogna sempre guardarsi intorno. Per non menzionare il gusto di mangiare una prelibatezza a costi zero! A presto :)