The optimum time to pick stinging nettle is just before the blossoms develop in spring and early
We had harvested nettle in early April to celebrate the return of spring. And to do it in the Italian
way, we decided to prepare these seasonal Tuscan gnocchi, which concentrates the earthy and
the nutty flavor of wild nettle, or “ortiche” in Italian, into bite-size dumplings that need no more than a little melted butter as a sauce. We also add “datterini” tomatoes.
While often served in Toscana, nettle dumplings are common throughout many regions in Italy.
When wild nettles are available (generally in spring and early summer), the best place to find
them is at a farmers’ market; or you go to harvest them, they are not widely available at stores.
Nettles are very prickly (they are also known as stinging nettles), so use gloves when handling
them raw. Once they are blanched, the leaves are no longer prickly and can be handled with
bare hands once cooled.
Extra Information About This Gnocchi Recipe
This recipe makes vibrant green gnocchi that’s as tasty as it is inexpensive; nettle is freely
available and nutritious plant. The preparation takes a while but, it is more than paid off with the
short cooking time. One of the keys to success with this recipe is to choose and cook your
potatoes correctly so you end up with a dry and fluffy mash.
So, choose some good floury potatoes such as a King Edward or Maris Piper. In Italy we use
Tonda di Napoli, Draga, Baraka, Kennebek, Majestic, or Bianca Comasca. These are “old
potatoes” rich in amid and with a poor concentration of water. Any ‘new potato’ type which is
firm when cooked will not mash nicely and will not be any good.
You need to cook the potatoes so that they do not absorb lots of water. Cook them with the skin
starting in cold water. This is our second piece of advice.
You have a lot of options for sauces to go with the gnocchi from a simple sage butter to a
gorgonzola sauce, from taleggio and pear to porcini mushroom sauce. It is entirely up to you!!!!
Ingredients for Nettle Gnocchi (4 servings)
- 250-300 grams wild nettles stemmed
- 1 egg
- 600 grams russet or yukon gold potatoes
- 250-300 grams all-purpose flour, plus more as needed and for dusting
- 50 grams grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt (to taste)
How to Prepare Nettle Gnocchi
Cover the potatoes in cold water and bring them to their boiling point. Simmer until tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander and set them aside to cool.
Put the nettles in a pan with boiling salted water and simmer until just tender. This will take from
3 to 10 minutes depending on the age of the nettles.
Drain the nettles and squeeze out excess water. Allow them to cool. Chop the nettles finely and
When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and mash them on the working table. Add the
chopped nettle, the flour, some Parmesan, the egg, and season with salt. If you like you can
add some nutmeg. If you have a blender, you may use it.
Mix well the ingredients and remember that you may face different challenges due to the kind of
potato or flour you use. Blend until the mixture forms a thick, cohesive paste.
Now for the fun part…
Dust some flour on the work surface, then place the dough directly on top of the flour. Take
small sections of dough and roll them into a thin sausage about 1 and 1/2cm in diameter. Use a
little flour on your hands or on the worktop to prevent the dough from sticking. Then cut the sausage into 2 cm lengths. Roll each little sausage down the prongs of a fork to put little grooves in it. These grooves help to hold more sauce!
Keep the gnocchi on your working surface if you have enough space dusted with some cornflour; I use cornflour because does not allow the gnocchi to stick…. you may use the all-purpose flour, no problem. If you do not have space on your table, then place the complete gnocchi on a tea towel or on a baking sheet sprinkled with flour while you make more gnocchi with the remaining dough. Make sure that the gnocchi do not touch, or they will stick together.
For the Gnocchi
To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pan of salted water up to a boil over medium-high heat.
Carefully, place your completed gnocchi into the water and simmer until they float to the surface. Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon to the sauce. Coat well, serve
into an individual platter, top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and….
Do not wait any longer! Buon appetito!
To Store the Gnocchi
Freeze them on the baking sheet and transfer them to an airtight container. Use them within one month. Do not thaw before cooking.
Fun Facts about Nettles:
- Nettles have evolved stings to prevent them being eaten by animals. Large herbivores avoid common nettle because of its sharp and poisonous hairs.
- On the other hand, many insects and their larvae use common nettle as food and safe place for egg deposition. Butterflies can’t get enough of it. Without these ruthlessly efficient plant pollinators all sorts of crops would suffer and could affect the human food chain. It’s not just the disappearance of the bees we need to worry about
- Common nettle can be used in treatment of urinary tract infections, disorders of gastrointestinal tract, skin and cardiac diseases, hemorrhage and flu.
- Common nettle is used in folk medicine as a remedy for rheumatism and gout. Placing of fresh plant on the painful joint can alleviate pain.
- Despite their stings, nettles have for a long time provided a source of food for humans in the form of soups, broths, salads or as an ingredient of various salty dishes and teas.
- Common nettle is rich source of iron, vitamin A and C, and few minerals.
- Nettles are also used as a fibre to make string and cloth. It was used in the production of fabrics in the past (before cotton was discovered). Certain countries produce textile made of common nettle today because it is cheap and has good characteristics.
- Common nettle is used in cosmetic industry mostly in the production of shampoos.
- Shampoos made of common nettle are used to remove dandruff and to improve quality of hair.
- Common nettle is also used for the manufacture of sweet non-alcoholic beverage and beer in Europe.
- Common nettle contains high level of valuable minerals and it can be used as manure for gardens.
And more interesting facts…
- In Tolstoy’s masterpiece, (Anna Karenina) nettle soup was one of the dishes eaten by Konstantin Lëvin and Stepan Oblonsky.
- Bronze Age. A research has demonstrated that nettles were part of man’s diet as early as the Bronze Age: in fact, a bowl was discovered whose contents, when analyzed, turned out to be nettle soup.
- Cornish Yarg. A delicious semi-hard cow’s milk cheese typically crafted in the county of Cornwall (England). Before being left to mature, the cheese is wrapped in nettles: its consistency, which is soft and creamy in proximity to the leaves, gradually becomes drier and crumbly towards the center.
- Disney. In Bedknobs and broomsticks (1971), Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) lists the foods she usually eats: one of these is stewed nettles.
- In Teorema (1968) by Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, Emilia is the servant who, on returning to her native village, works miracles and eats nothing but… nettles!
- Nettles must be picked far from built-up areas and busy roads. Since the leaves sting, it is necessary to wear gloves and use scissors to pick and clean them (remember, they must always be cut and never torn). Once cooked, they completely lose their sting. Their rather special and delicate flavor is becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient for fillings, risotto, fritters, sauces, cream of vegetable soups, quiches, fresh pasta, and even desserts.
- Gouda. Nettles feature in many gouda cheese varieties which are not only produced in the Netherlands but also in Great Britain, the United States, and Canada.
- In the fable of Hans Christian Andersen entitled The Wild Swans, the princess is obliged to wear a jacket of nettles to break the spell cast on her brothers. This leads us to one of the many uses nettles are put to: indeed, for centuries they were adopted in the textile industry for their fibers (clothing, cloth, paper, sacks, and ropes).
- In Fifty shades of grey by E. L. James reference is made to a Scandinavian cream of nettle soup with fish bisque.
- Nettles are exceptionally low in calories (100 grams of this plant contain no more than 42 calories) but rich in flavonoids and phenolic acids, polysaccharides, tannins, mineral salts (calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium), and vitamins (A, C, D, and K). According to herbalists, nettles are even better for you if you consume them in the form of herbal tea (leaves and dried roots): this remedy is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, digestive, anti-aging, and healing.
- Oil. This is mainly extracted from the dried leaves of the plant and its use is strictly medicinal or cosmetic.
- Many French recipes contemplate the use of nettles. As well as the widely popular soupe d’ortie, an evergreen (!) of home cooking, some even include it in the filling of the famous quiche.
- According to some British scholars, the most ancient dish of Her Majesty’s realm would appear to be nettle pudding. This recipe apparently dates back six thousand years and consists in mixing nettles, dandelion and sorrel with barley flour, water and salt.
- Tortelli. In the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, especially in the town of Reggio Emilia, a springtime version of tortelli contemplates the use of nettles rather than chard: most recipe books recommend the use of the small tender leaves at the top of the plant which are picked in springtime before the flowers appear.
- Vernacular. In German, the expression sich in die Nesseln setzen (literally “sitting on nettles”) means “getting into trouble”. In Hungarian, csalánba nem üt un mennykö (which is translated as “lightning never strikes nettles”) means that “bad things never happen to bad people”. The same idiomatic phrase exists in Serbian – неће гром у коприве. In Dutch, netelige situatie (literally meaning “nettle situation”) refers to a difficult situation.
- Foraging enthusiasts and vegans will happily agree to this veggie version of Scottish haggis, which combines mashed nettle (boiled, seasoned with oil salt and pepper, before being finely blended) with leek, cabbage, fried dulse seaweed and porridge (cooked flour of oats or, alternatively, barley or even millet). When ready, the resulting mixture is fed into a muslin bag and boiled for about one hour over a gentle heat. An ideal way to serve it is with horseradish or sorrel sauce.