I ate nettles for the first time when were traveling in Bulgaria eight years ago. There they are served sauteed with poached eggs, rolled with farmers cheese in balls studded with walnuts or made into soups and fritters. The food in Bulgaria was really excellent. This may have changed since they joined the European Union, but at the time there was no shipping of produce in refrigerated trucks. All of the figs and tomatoes were straight out of some nearby garden and they were delicious. There were wonderful, salty, tart cheeses and sausages and roasted red peppers. There was an herb infused salt called sharena sol on every table. Folks made their own plum brandy. There were flakey, tart cheese filled pastries called banitsa for breakfast and the very best yogurt in the world.
Every once in a while my husband talks about the nettles in Bulgaria and wonders why you never see nettles as food restaurants or grocery stores here. He seems to long for them in a way that is unusual for him. I long for various specific food stuffs all the time. You could ask me at any moment what I am craving and I could tell you. But Chris does not have food on the brain all the time like I do, so I have taken note of his longing for nettles. There is one farmer who has brought nettles to the Union Square Green Market for the last few weeks and I have been making the trip into Manhattan to buy them.
Along with the nettles, I bought ramps (wild garlic), and farmers cheese. I thought that I was going to make those Bulgarian walnut studded nettle cheese balls…but then I got distracted by reading about gnudi.
I am not a gnudi expert, unless spending several hours reading about gnudi on-line qualifies me…but here is the scoop…Gnudi are like ravioli without the pasta wrapping. They are also sometimes described as being like gnocchi but lighter. I have been wanting to figure out how to make gluten-free ravioli and gnocchi and it seemed that gnudi might satisfy both cravings! Gnudi is also sometimes called Malfatti. Gnudi means naked and Malfatti means imperfect or badly made. Naked, imperfect Italian dumplings? Yes please! I read a lot of recipes and finally made this one up based on all of the recipes that I read and my instinct that the nutty flavour of amaranth flour would go well with the nettles and be a good gluten-free substitute for the bit of flour needed to hold the dumplings together.
I cannot even express how well these turned out. I look forward to making gluten-free naked imperfect dumplings in all kinds of flavours in the future! I served them with a rocket and radish salad with a walnut vinaigrette (a nod to the Bulgarian nettle and walnut combo). It helped that were eating an overall fabulous meal in the beautiful backyard Brooklyn garden of our dear friends Kerthy and Paul….I mean look at this. I don’t mean to gloat but….look at this!
In addition to being delicious, nettles are supposed to be some sort of super food. When they are fresh you need to handle them using a plastic bag as a glove…they are called stinging nettle for a reason…but all their sting goes out as soon as they are wilted from the heat of cooking. If you are not gluten-free just use 4 tablespoons of wheat flour instead of the amaranth flour and tapioca starch in the batter and use Semolina flour for dusting.
- The greens from about 12 ramps (about 1 oz), save the bulbs for the walnut vinaigrette
- 1 bunch of nettles (about 8 oz)
- 3/4 pound fresh ricotta (I used farmers cheese and it was great)
- 2 or 3 ounces grated parmesan
- 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 Tablespoon tapioca starch
- 3 Tablespoons amaranth flour
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- fresh ground black pepper
- sea salt
- The zest of half a lemon
- 2 teaspoons tapioca starch and 2 Tablespoons brown rice flour for dusting
- olive oil and grated aged cheese for garnish
- If your ricotta or farmers cheese is wet, allow it to drain in a colander or sieve lined with cloth or paper towels.
- Bring a lidded pot of water with a steamer to a boil.
- Using a plastic bag or rubber gloves wash the nettles under several changes of cold water. Drop the nettles into the steamer and put the lid on. After two minutes use some tongs to shift the nettles around and be sure that the ones n the middle are getting cooked too. When all of the nettles are wilted and soft remove them to a colander to cool.
- Drop the ramp greens into the steamer and put a lid on them. Allow them to steam for about 2 minutes or until they are entirely soft and a dark, bright green. Remove the ramp greens and set them aside to cool.
- In a large bowl combine the farmers cheese, parmesan and egg yolks and stir to just combine.
- When the nettles have cooled enough to handle, pull all of the tender leaves off of the thick stocks. Discard the stocks.
- Use your hands to gather the tender nettle and ramp greens into a tight ball, squeezing all of the extra liquid out. Mince the dried greens and add them to the cheese mixture stirring to just combine.
- Add 1 Tablespoon tapioca starch, 3 tablespoons amaranth flour, the nutmeg, salt, pepper and lemon zest to the cheese mixture and stir to just combine.
- Sprinkle 2 teaspoons tapioca starch and 2 Tablespoons brown rice flour on a plate.
- Using wet fingers and a wet teaspoon, shape the dough into Tablespoon sized oblong balls. Generously dust them in the tapioca rice flour mixture (add more flour if you need it) and place them in a large flat storage container that you can put in the fridge. I had to layer them in three layers in my container, so I used parchment paper in between each layer to prevent sticking. Allow them to sit in the fridge for at least half an hour and up to overnight. The tapioca/ rice dusting will absorb a bit more liquid from the dumplings and form a very thin skin that allows them to stay in one piece when cooked! This is usually done with semolina flour.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and then turn it down to near boil. Drop several dumplings in the water. When they float, allow them to simmer for about two minutes then scoop them onto a serving platter with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.
- Serve drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of aged cheese. These are excellent with the following salad.
- I bunch of rocket or common arugula, washed and dried
- several radishes, sliced
- 1/3 cup Walnuts
- 1/3 cup Olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons Sherry vinegar
- The zest of 1/2 lemon
- the juice of 1 lemon
- the bulbs and slender pink stems of about 4 ramps, minced
- 1 teaspoon agave nectar or some other sweetener
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the rocket and radishes in big salad bowl.
- In a blender or food processor, puree the walnuts, olive oil, sherry vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, ramp bulbs, agave nectar, sea salt and black pepper until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to suite your taste.
- Toss the salad with the dressing and serve.