Monday, 23 June 2014

Nettle pasta recipe by volunteer Annie

It's Summer Recipe month at the Mini Cooking Club! We've got an unusual recipe for nettle pasta to share with you by our cooking volunteer, Annie! Read on.

Being half Italian, I believe I’ve got a keen appreciation for all things food-related, especially when it comes to pasta. I remember my nonna and nonno spending hours together in the kitchen when I was growing up, painstakingly making pasta dough, rolling it through the machine, laying it over the little ravioli trays and filling each square with a delicious spoonful of meaty goodness.

These ravioli (we called them agnolotti) would then be stacked up in our freezer for months to come, ready to be whipped out and cooked up in about five minutes flat. Absolutely scrumptious with a bit of melted butter and some parmesan cheese.

Many years later I’ve managed to acquire a pasta-making machine of my own. Determined not to let it gather dust in my cupboard, I invited my gourmet friend over to help me make stinging nettle and ricotta cheese ravioli the other day.

Sounds a bit dodgy I know, but bear with me because the results are worth it. First step, picking the stinging nettles. We donned a pair of marigolds each and set out to our local park, which is thankfully a haven for the pesky weeds.

Attracting a few weird looks from the local dog-walkers, we stashed a big bunch of nettles safely in a bag and headed for home. After washing the nettles carefully (kept the marigolds on for this) we blanched them in boiling water (they lose their sting from the hot water) before draining and squeezing out the excess water. Then bunged them in the Magimix with 250gm of plain flour and 2 lightly beaten eggs and whizzed it all up together to form the dough.

Before you leave pasta dough to stand, you need to give it a good kneading on a lightly floured surface. This is tricky because if you over-knead it or put too much flour into the mixture, it will become heavy and lumpen and brittle. If you don’t knead it enough or there’s not enough flour then it remains sticky and wet and ends up more on your hands than anywhere else. It’s a bit of a test and learn process really, aiming to get the dough smooth and supple without over-doing it.

While the dough was resting (set it aside for an hour in cling film) we made the filling by whizzing together 700gm of ricotta cheese (surprisingly hard to find), 80gm of parmesan, 2 egg yolks and a pinch of ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Then came the fun bit, rolling the pasta. Obviously having watched my grandparents do it umpteen times, I thought we had this in the bag. It’s actually not as easy as they made it look. We ended up with loads of holes in the dough and had to re-run it through the machine a good few times before it started to really smooth out in a satisfyingly elastic way that stretched really well over the mould.

Then it was a simple matter of dolloping in the cheese mixture, a bit of eggwash round the edges to make the top layer of pasta stick and then pressed that into place. The little green ravioli popped out of the mould straight into a waiting pan of boiling salted water and then two minutes later hey presto...

Coated with melted butter, a few leaves of chopped up sage and a good handful of freshly grated parmesan, this was gratifyingly one of the most delicious meals I’ve eaten for a long time!

By Annie Bruzzone

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