Every week my first stop at the farmers market is Foraged and Found Edibles. Whatever they have always sets the tone for our meals for the week. They are chefs turned foragers who harvest wild foods from the surrounding Seattle area and always have an amazing selection of things you will most likely never find in the grocery store. This last visit confirmed that Spring is in fact HERE and I walked away with wild nettles, fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce and watercress filling my bag to the brim.
What I was especially excited about though were the nettles. The seasonal window of time is so brief for these barbed little things. February and March is prime for eating them as by April they start to become coarse and you should not eat them once they start to form flowers. If you are lucky enough to have them grow wild in your neighborhood, pick only the tips. The first 4 to 6 leaves on each spear are the most tender. Don’t forget to always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when handling these ferociously stingy things but don’t worry, once cooked, the sting dies off.
It will probably come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that nettles beat both spinach and broccoli in their richness in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and iron. A tea made by steeping nettle leaves has long been used as a tonic. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used in its place in most recipes. My favorite ways to eat them is on pizza, or made into a soup or pesto. Here I’m trying something new and putting them in gnocchi paired with bite size spicy pork meatballs all swimming in a nutty parmesan broth. For a veggie option you can replace the meatballs with cannelloni beans. Adding fresh peas would also be delicious.
I hope next time you see nettles at the market or growing along the sidewalk, you snatch some up and discover how tasty and healthy they really are!
nettle gnocchi in parmesan brodo with spicy pork meatballs
- 6oz parmesan rinds
- 8 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 8oz nettle leaves
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan + more for garnish
- 3 egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 2/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1 cup flour
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Put parmesan rinds, water and bay leaf in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat then turn the heat down to low and gently simmer for 2 hours stirring every once in a while to make sure the rinds don’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot. Strain through cheesecloth, season with a little salt and set aside.
Heat oven to 400º. In a bowl, mix together pork, 1/3 cup bread crumbs, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and chile flakes until everything is incorporated. Form 1″ meatballs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook for 20 minutes, until nicely golden brown, then set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook nettles for a minute. Drain and put into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cool, drain from the ice bath and squeeze the nettles to remove as much water as possible. Transfer them to a food processor and process into a smooth paste, adding 1/4 cup of water or so if needed to get things moving.
In a bowl, mix together the nettle puree, 1 egg, egg yolk, parmesan, 1/3 cup bread crumbs, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt & pepper. Add flour and stir to form a soft dough. Coat a cookie sheet with flour and with two teaspoons, make Quenelles by scooping some of the dough into one spoon and with the second spoon press it into the bowl of the spoon as you scrape it back into the first spoon repeating until you have a three sided football shape. Or, if you want to make life easier for yourself, you can also put the dough into a pastry bag and pipe out pieces onto the flour. Either way, they should be 1.5-2″ long. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop in 1/2 of the gnocchi. Cook for about 5 minutes then transfer to a plate and cover with foil while you cook the second half of the gnocchi.
To serve, bring the broth to a simmer and add dumplings and meatballs to just heat everything through then ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with a drizzle of nice olive oil and a big grating of parmesan.