Running wild in Umbria: ravioli
Every once in a while I run into an article on eating wild foods, but I haven’t published many of them. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t get weeds to eat. Even in Maine, one of the most rigid cold climates I have ever experienced, my mother taught us how to find them and how to cook and eat them.
Fiddlehead ferns are top of that list. I can’t think of anything I love more than fiddleheads, but even in Maine we only got them for one short season, just about this time of year. Years later when I had moved away my mother tried to serve me some from her freezer when I visited. I think wild asparagus fills that luxury post in Italy.
Dandelions were good early in spring when they were young and full of water. What my mother called pigweed the rest of the world calls lamb’s quarters and is really great. Wild field mustard greens are tastier somehow than cultivated ones bought in a shop.
Italian country folk eat lots of wild things. Some, like the porcino, are world famous. Others get gathered ensemble and dressed with a bit of oil and salt, becoming one of the most interesting salads you’ll ever get lucky enough to eat and that only if you cultivate an acquaintance with an old timer.
Last week I went to lunch with some girlfriends and ordered mezzelune (half moons) stuffed with stinging nettles. I’ve made them for this blog a couple of years ago, and they were good. The restaurant ones, however, were more nettle by far and less cheese by far, and I wasn’t sure exactly how they did that. Sunday my friend Larry and I made an attempt at it. They were almost like, the difference being that ours were hand chopped and the restaurant nettles had been made into a smooth cream with a blender or food mill. That would be easy to fix, for sure. The restaurant ones were served with sage and butter and I like that, but thought I’d like to try another flavor. Just remember that stinging nettles are an extraordinarily healthy food right now, when it is still cool and there’s been plenty of rain. Once the hot and dry period starts, they won’t be safely edible until next autumn. Use garden gloves and scizzors to gather them in places where no one is spraying chemicals, or buy them in a natural foods store.
Stuffed pasta with stinging nettles (or something else)
First I made pasta using 200 g/7 ounces of 00 flour and 2 eggs. How you get your pasta is not my business, but it has to be relatively fresh.
180 g/6.34 oz nettles, washed very thoroughly and steamed in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes.
200 g/7 oz ricotta, preferably sheep’s
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
about ¾ teaspoon salt
about ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vinegar, your choice
Drain the nettles very well. I gathered, cleaned and cooked mine the night before. It took 4 baths in salt water to get them spotlessly clean to my standard, meaning nothing was left in the bowl of water after I’d lifted out the agitated greens. I was using a single-use latex glove for this work. I’m highly tolerant of nettle stings, but why do that to yourself?
Mince the drained nettles as fine as you know how and put them into a bowl. Add the ricotta, the salt and the nutmeg. Mix thoroughly and at this point you might want to use a stick blender or a food mill/passaverdura for the fineness that offers.
Roll out long strips of pasta and drop small piles of stuffing (using too much is the first and foremost mistake people make) along it. Use a pastry brush to dampen the pasta around the stuffing piles. Drop another strip of pasta on top and gently, using your hands, form the pasta around the stuffing so that there are no air bubbles, then press the pasta sheets together to seal them. Use a cutter of some kind to cut individual ravioli from your neat little bumpy pasta sheets. Lay them on a clean dish towel.
That’s all you need to do until a few minutes before you want to eat. Then start a pot of water to boil. While it is heating, get out your pasta bowls and in each put a couple of pieces of butter and some finely minced chives. I find it takes more chives than you want to eat to flavor the butter adequately.
When the water comes to a boil, salt it, and gently slide in the ravioli, reducing the heat to a simmer. Don’t boil homemade stuffed pasta hard like you boil spaghetti or tagliatelle, because too much motion might unseal them. Watch for them to bob up to the top then let them cook about 90 seconds more. Tiny stuffed pastas with cooked fillings are ready when they come to the top, but bigger ones with raw filling like these need a bit more time, but not very much! Don’t wreck your beauties.
This one is for you.
When they are cooked, use a slotted utensil to lift them out and lay them into the buttered plates. They should not be overly dry, because the cooking water and butter together become a silky sauce that tastes like whatever flavoring you put there. Sprinkle a little more chives over them, and if you can, add a couple of chive blooms. Serve smoking hot.
So, when nettle season is over must I stop having these for lunch? Certainly not! Just change the name to another weed or green, like turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach or broccoli stems. Sturdy greens might need to be cooked longer and blended better than these softer babies, but they’s always be good and they’ll be healthy too.
Can you imagine fiddlehead ravioli with lobster sauce? I can. Now I am starving to death and I sent the leftovers home with Larry.