The monthly Collingwood Children’s Farm Farmers Market fell on a gorgeous Spring day, the warmest day we’d had since last autumn. The market, which is held in a large field by the river, was a hive of activity. There were all sorts of things going on – there were boxes of baby artichokes for $15; the gozleme man (as I fondly call him) was cooking spinach and cheese as well as pumpkin and leek gozleme; children were tucking into fruit-juice icy poles and there were flowers in pots or in posies everywhere. The animals on the farms were also in tune with spring as a few days earlier several baby goats had been born.
Mark pushed our shopping trolley as I grabbed armfuls of this and that from the vendors: giant purple artichokes, broccoli, apples, rhubarb and finally a giant bag of stinging nettles. Spring is such a lovely season for fresh produce and I was very happy to have found nettles. Last year a work collegue who lives in the country had brought a large bag to work for me but as we no longer work together, I wasn’t sure where to get them from. I was very much looking forward to making green pasta with them.
Once I had got the nettles home, I carefully handled them whilst wearing gloves, removing the leaves from the stalks, rinsing them and finally plunging them in boiling water for a minute. The boiling removes the sting completely, so after that step you can handle them as much as you like without getting stung. They actually do sting if you have been unlucky enough to brush against them. Making pasta with nettles not only makes it a brilliant green but gives an incredible herby earthy taste to the pasta. The only way I can describe it is it tastes green.
After boiling and draining the nettles, you must squeeze as much liquid as you possibly can out of them. You then incorporate them in your pasta dough in place of an egg and work the pasta as you usually would and shape them into any shape you like. I often make tagliatelle with the attachment on my pasta machine, but this time I made farfalle (literally meaning butterflies), by pinching together rectangles I had cut with my fluted pasta wheel. They looked so pretty when they were laid out on my pasta board. I didn’t want to mask the lovely taste of the nettles so I ate mine with melted butter and plenty of parmesan cheese and Mark drowned his in a meaty sugo my mother had made. It is delicious with any sauce you would like to put on it. I love to keep it simple and green – it tastes very much like Spring to me.
stinging nettle pasta
Serves 4 people
bunch stinging nettles, leaves picked
300g 00 flour
2 large eggs
fine semolina for dusting
parmesan cheese, grated
lemon zest (optional)
Pick the leaves and small stems from the nettles (whilst wearing gloves) and wash them in plenty of water. Plunge them in a large pot of boiling water, allow thing the water to return to the boil and then remove from the pot and drain the leaves in a colander. Rinse them in icy cold water and when cool enough to handle, wring them well with your hands (no gloves needed).
To make the pasta, place the flour on a work surface, make a well in the centre in which you will place the eggs and the nettles. Work the flour into the centre ingredients little by little with your fingers until it is all blended and then knead until smooth. You could also do this step with a food processor (I tend to as the nettles will be distributed more evenly through the dough), although you will still need to knead it until it is smooth. Form a ball with the dough, wrap in cling film and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes (a couple of hours is fine).
Make the pasta by running it through your pasta machine (if you have not made pasta before, see this post for more detailed instructions) until it is the desired thickness (I ran it through to the second thinnest setting). Cut your sheets into rectangles approximately 2cm by 1cm with a fluted cutter, then pinch the middle to make a farfalla (butterfly) shape. Dust with semolina, cover with a tea towel until ready to use.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-saled water for a couple of minutes until al dente. Toss cooked farfalle in a large frypan with melted butter until well coated. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used parmigiano reggiano) and freshly grated lemon zest if desired.