One of my favorite parts of spring used to be one of my least favorite parts. Stinging nettles have always been a nuisance to me and then I taught myself how to pick them and eat them. Now they are one of my favorite things. The only problem with them now is that once they get to big they lose some of their edibility. They get a little woody and aren't as delicious.
So how do you keep the young tender nettles so you can make nettle pastas and gnocchi through out the summer. The answer is to freeze them. I recently picked about a pound and a half of nettles and after rinsing them and drying them off I sauteed them in butter with a little salt and pepper then threw them in the blender to puree them. Once pureed I poured them into ice cube trays and froze them. I measured it out and 3 1/2 cubes is about equal to 1/2 a cup. Now I can have my nettle pastas all through out the year.
I have eaten nettles in dozens of different ways, I have made nettle soup and have used nettles to make chimichurri and pesto. I have even made a nettle beer that tasted pretty good. But my all time favorite thing to do with nettles is to make gnocchi and pasta. Not only does it give you a beautiful looking pasta but it adds a distinctive and wonderful flavor. The flavor of the pasta is so good in fact that you don't really need to sauce it at all. Just a toss in brown butter and a light sprinkle of Parmesan and you are good to go.
These little agnolotti are surprisingly simple to make, they do require a pasta roller but you can pick up a decent hand cranked pasta roller for about 30 bucks. After you make the dough you feed it through you roller until you get a thin piece about 4 inches wide and 2-3 feet long. then you pipe the filling out onto the pasta. For piping it out I use a one gallon Ziploc bag and cut one corner off so you can squeeze your filling out onto the pasta. Then all you have to do is roll the pasta over the filling until you have one long tube. then using your fingers press the pasta down about every inch or so to make the individual agnolotti. Cut the pieces with a knife and then crimp the two open sides with a fork.
You will end up with these beautiful little pillows of pasta and filling. For these I had been out trout fishing and found some Ramps (wild onions) so I sauteed a cup of ramp leaves and chopped them fine and mixed that with ricotta and Parmesan to make the filling. After cooking the agnolotti I tossed them with some brown butter, a tablespoon of lemon juice and some capers and topped them with some grated Parmesan. They were absolutely fabulous.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup nettle puree
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt
Make a mound of flour in the middle of a large surface and make a well in the middle. Stir the yolks and nettles together and pour into the well. Add the pinch of salt and then with your fingers start to stir the nettle puree into the flour and work it all together until you get one ball of dough. If it is to dry add a few drops of water at a time until you get a dough with the consistency of Play-dough. once you have reached this point the possibilities are endless. You can make the agnolotti or you can make any other variety of pasta.
For the filling
1 cup sauteed ramp leaves (roughly chopped)
1 cup ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan.
combine all the ingredients and you are all set to make ravioli or agnolotti or tortellini.