A lovely sunny day, two children to amuse who love cooking and lunch to get for a visiting family. I know, nettle gnocchi! Being a positive sort of person I think this sounds like a great idea, others may think it a recipe for disaster but here goes. I adorn the children with bright yellow rubber gloves about three sizes too big for them, long sleeves and trousers and march them off to the woods. We made sure we picked only the young tender looking nettles that were away from the edges of the pathways and where dogs may have passed.
Nettles are high in Vitamin A and C, help the body to absorb iron and apparently might cure my dodgy arthritic knee if I make this a habit. So you can feel good about your health and your pocket as you collect nature’s free harvest. After we filled two large carrier bags full of nettles we come back to the house to cook.
The secret of light gnocchi is to trap as much air inside as you can so we use a passetutto (foodmill) to mash the potatoes. A ricer is also good and both are fun for the children to use. Freezing gnocchi before they are cooked can give an even better result than cooking from fresh, as they tend to hold their shape better.
Soft pillows of gnocchi have to be one of the best comfort foods and combined with the fact that I actually managed to pull the kids away from the alluring screens of the computer for two whole hours I am happy.
Nettle and Potato Gnocchi Gnocchi di patate e ortica
Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main course
2 carrier bags of nettles (weight approx 300g with stems, unwashed)
500g potatoes (King Edwards work well), unpeeled
150g ’00’ or pasta flour
1 heaped teaspoon salt
Generous twist of pepper
Cook the whole potatoes with their skin on in a large pan of boiling salted water until tender – this could take up to an hour, depending on their size. Meanwhile, wearing rubber gloves wash the nettles under cold running water and then de-stem them putting the leaves into a pan of salted boiling water. Leave them to cook for around 3 to 5 minutes until tender, then drain. Finely chop with a large knife.
Drain and peel the potatoes while they are still hot, either by holding them in one hand on a fork or with a cloth, and peeling the skin away with a knife in the other hand. Pass them through a passetutto or ricer into a bowl. Stir in the egg with a wooden spoon. Add one-third of the flour to form a soft, pliable dough. Pour the rest of the flour as a mound onto the work surface and turn out the dough onto the flour. Knead the flour in with the dough, adding a little more if the dough still very sticky.
You need to decide how big to make the gnocchi. The trick is to keep them the same size so that they have the same cooking time. Roll out the dough into long sausages and chop it into pieces between 2 and 4 cm in length.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the gnocchi. They are cooked when they bob back up to the surface – this takes about 2–4 minutes. Drain well and toss in your chosen sauce. Our favourite is sage and melted butter with Parmesan grated over the top.