Inspired by the amazingly enthusiastic Carl Legge and with the memory of the Stroud Forager fresh in my mind, I decided last week to make nettle and potato gnocchi.
I don’t have a good track record with gnocchi; a memory of trying to make them over twenty years ago and producing something so inedible, even my inebriated housemates wouldn’t touch them is still vivid in my mind. I’ve bought the odd packet in the supermarket since and found them fairly gruesome too.
There are masses of tender young nettles in the woods in April and the dogs are always keen to go for a foraging walk.
Apparently, nettles are incredibly good for you, full of ‘calcium, magnesium, iron and numerous trace elements as well as a range of vitamins‘ and are supposed to be good for all manner of ailments as well. Just now I came across the Be Nice to Nettles Week which is happening next month; lots of information on that site.
Picking nettles, you either need to wear your washing up gloves, which might look a little strange in a public woodland, or as Carl suggested on Twitter, a stout pair of walking gloves.
I compromised and wore Showa gardening gloves.
Brian being brave, picked netttles with his bare hands. He always tries to convince me that I can do it too.
I decline to experiment.
We picked only the top four leaves on any plant and it takes time to select the nicest looking nettles away from areas where they might have been peed on, though they were of course well washed and thoroughly cooked before being used.
I put them in a zip-loc bag in the fridge with a sprinkle of water and they kept fresh and sparkly till tonight.
There are a few recipes around. Ray has made a wild garlic version which sounds very tempting too. Carl has described the process beautifully in his blog post, but I didn’t have enough nettles to make them exactly the way he did so I adapted his principles and used:
- 100 grams of steamed nettle leaves (dry weight after being steamed for five minutes and having the water pressed out of them)
- 675 grams of King Edward floury potatoes (peel and steam cook in small pieces and leave to air dry, then lightly mash – my potato ricer has gone walk about)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon of seasalt
- A good twist of pepper
- 160 grams of 00 flour or plain fine flour (Shipton Mill)
Prepare the potatoes see notes above.
Chop the steamed nettle leaves very finely.
Find a Danish dough whisk, an excellent tool for putting mixtures together lightly but evenly if you have one, otherwise fold the mixture together lightly with a large metal spoon.
I have read that the secret, if secret there is, is to try and keep the mixture light and airy and not let the potatoes do that gluey thing they do.
Mix the nettles and dry mashed or riced potatoes together lightly into a crumbly mass ; do not beat them, add the egg, salt, pepper and flour and give it all a gentle stir.
Let it sit for about five minutes and then take a large handful of the mixture and pat it out gently with floured hands. Then roll it out into a rope about 2 cm in diameter on a floured board, using the minimum of pressure, try using your finger tips, if you are inclined to be heavy handed.
Use a sharp knife or dough cutter, cut the rope into lozenge shapes approx 4 cms long and stack them on a flour dusted board.
Finally following Carl – indent the tops of the gnoccchi with the tines of a fork, apparently it holds the sauce better! And it looks pretty too.
Bring a large wide pan of water to the boil and heat up a jar of Brian’s home made roast tomato and tarragon tomato sauce, or whatever topping you desire, grate some parmesan and English goat cheese.
I must confess that all the time I was thinking, these aren’t going to work, they’re going to be horrible and I had Plan B in mind; a straight packet of pasta was waiting impatiently to be pressed into duty.
Three minutes in the boiling water and up bobbed the gnocchi, visibly increasing in volume and looking very perky.
We fished them out, sauced and cheesed them, cracked open a bottle of St Peter’s best organic ale…..
….and they were delicious! Light, fresh, homemade gnocchi. I’m a convert to the cause. One big thank you to Carl!
Perfect! Take the principle and adapt to your circumstances. And some new knowledge too. I’m touched by the feedback.
Hooray for nettles! Cheers
I was so full of nutrients I went to bed early! :)
Yikes! Nettle’s and I have a really long stinging history, which I am inclined to want to forget. Interesting that they do have so many nutrients, but it might take quite a bit of convincing to get me to go looking for them. You are very very brave!
The gnocchi on the other hand looks very interesting, and rather easy to make. I have been trying to find my pasta maker for over a year now and as you said, I think it has gone on a walk about! This might give me something to sustain me, or at least keep me busy. Wonder how they would taste with rosemary and garlic.
Joanne, feel the fear and do it anyway (old cliché). I think they would taste lovely with rosemary and garlic ;)
They look wonderful, Joanna, and all with the bonus of hand-foraged nettles. I had the same experience as you with my one and only attempt at gnocchi in my past life – they were heavy, gluey, unswallowable lumps, but made very good missiles for tom cats – deadly as I recall. I’m tempted now to have another go – Jo :)
I didn’t offer any to Zeb or throw them at him, I was too busy eating them – see Carl’s advice below for mixing – it’s spot on :)
Thank you Joanna and Carl – I will definitely push my sleeves up and have a go.
The reason the gnocchi get heavy is if you over process them. Try and ‘mash’ potatoes in a food processor and you end up with glue. The starch in the potato comes out and is not good. So the less you beat/mix/process the potato the better. Get it dry, rice or mash it & then just do enough to mix. It’ll be light & scrumptious.
Good stuff Joanna.
I am often heavy handed with mashing potatoes, but this time I think it came good. The type of potatoes is important too as you say in your post, floury, not waxy ones. Also when I put it together to roll it out I almost patted it and then rolled very lightly without much downward pressure, nothing like making challah braids or bread sticks. Hmm nettle bread sticks…. ;)
I recently purchased a potato ricer which is ideal for gnocchi… I think I will be trying nettle gnocchi this weekend!
i am very excited about your ‘nettle gnocchi’..they look absolutely delicious..when i lived in greece i watched my mother in law pick all sorts of ‘weeds’ to make hortopitta (weed pie)..and since then i have fostered a limited number 0f edible weeds in my garden including nettles..i am looking forward to this seasons nettles (i am in melbourne, victoria, australia ) to try your inspiring recipe..i often add them a pot of boiling pasta..they only need a few seconds to wilt down..and serve with whatever sauce ive made :) jane
Hortopitta! and then there were wild greens with boiled eggs, in a sea of green olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice – I always wondered what they were, I thought they were dandelion leaves mostly, but I never saw the pickings, just ate them and they were so good.
True family food in the Greek countryside – once upon a winter I picked olives in Crete. Lovely memories, thank you Jane :)
you are right joanna..the cooked greens used in salads are usually dandelion or another green called ‘blita’..not sure what blita is but now that im writing about it i want to find out the botanical name and see if i can source some seeds..olive picking in greece! oh..that sounds so much fun… :) :)
blita or vlita is botanically called amaranthus viridis..jane
Hi Jane, I’ve answered lower down, my comment boxes get too small after about three exchanges :) Joanna
I’d knock on the door for some of that gnocchi!… (oh I had to…)
Tell me, could you taste the nettles? I just can’t imagine what nettles would taste like.
My sister once made gnocchi as a teenager. Balls the size of small oranges, and not particularly delicious.
gnice! Yes, you can taste the nettles, they are very green, pungent, and well -they taste like nettles. Not as bitter as spinach, nor sour like sorrel – once they are wilted and cooked they have no sting, not even a hint of it. You’re talking to a wimp here :) If you make the gnocchi fairly small then they will cook quickly. I imagine if they are very large then the outside will go slimey by the time the flour is cooked.
Gnocchi actually means lumps – which is how my gnocchi turned out when I made them, they were horrid and I have never ventured back. You have inspired me to try again – although the supermarket here has some with mozzarella in the centre – yum!!!
It really is a bit like making muffins, you combine the ingredients, rather than blend or mix them, trying to keep air in it and the starch in the potatoes as Carl says. I thought about putting cheese in the mix, but decided to play safe first time around – and simply throw the cheese on the top :)
Ray said above :
Ray, I looked high and low for the potato ricer yesterday and I have a feeling it went to the charity shop in a kitchen purge of gadgetry – big mistake :(
They look just fantastic…..light as a feather….very tempting even at breakfast time !
I am going to try a wild garlic (nettles are just step too far into the “good life” for how I feel right now) version now I have seen how delicious these look and I am wondering whether sage would be too strong……
Really nice to see an inspirational recipe
How about with sage leaves in butter as a topping? And mix a little spinach in the gnocchi for the colour? Thanks for popping in Lynne :)
I made lasagna with spinach and meat sauce last night.
Can I get away with TWO pastas in a week?
I’m going to make the gnocchi soon if not tonight.
We had a patch of stinging nettles that grew around the raspberries. But I’ve moved away and don’t think it exists anymore. So I’m going to use spinach and garlic chives in mine. I’ll let you know if they are a treasure- disasters will go unmentioned.
Thanks for such a great idea, Joanna!
I think these are barely pasta, they’re mostly potato after all… Spinach and garlic chives sound good, I know Robin made them with butternut squash one time… though I imagine that would be a different recipe altogether. I will keep my fingers crossed for you Heidi :)
Now I know what to do with all those nettles growing in the borders! Love gnocchi and never tried to make them. Perhaps need to combine the two things and give this a go.
There’s lots of other things you can make with them. Nettle soup is good, I’ve made that before and I think Carl has a hazelnut and nettle tart recipe. Love to hear how you get on with them one day Helen :)
Very clever, and brave nettle picking! I don’t think I’d recognise a nettle if I saw one in the garden! I love reading recipes that use foraged vegetables – I think if we all start looking at things differently, be it in the woods or in the garden, we’d realise there’s so much more we can eat out there! :)
PS. Brian’s sauce sounds delish!
I don’t think the stinging nettle I pick here is native to Australia, you may have similar or related plants, you would need to ask an Australian botanist or herbalist for information. I bet you have all sorts of plants there that are used for foods or medicines that we don’t have here…
Maybe the chooks eat them? Brian’s sauce was very fine, we had a bag of French tarragon in the fridge at the time he was making the sauce back in January so he just added it in and it works really well. Only one jar left now :(
Your nettles look so small, I am assuming they grow a lot larger? The ones I am familiar with are huge plants, sometimes several feet tall. As a child I remember thinking they were huge! I don’t have any that grow here, our climate is pretty dry for the most part. Considered high desert country. We do have tons of dandelions each year!
Joanne, they can grow easily to waist height or more, that patch in the photos was youngish plants that were quite low to the ground.
Young dandelion leaves can be eaten, very popular in Greece, blanched and dressed with olive oil, though I have to say, I haven’t done that yet.
They look amazing. I’m not brave enough to try making gnocchi – I’d end up with potato soup I think.
Go on…. try it, use half of the quantities above, will give you enough for two good portions. I have read you can freeze them and cook them from frozen as well.
They are good when they are young, but get more bitter when they are older. I’ve only eaten them a few times, but thought I would try to catch some this year when they come up. I just saw some flower’s in our field today, so it should be long! That is if the goats haven’t gotten to them first.
Goats eat everything, don’t they? :)
Jane at Teawithhazel – thanks for looking up the Greek ‘greens’. I’ve heard of the amaranthus family. There’s one called red amaranthus which turns up in mixed packets of salad seeds quite often. Definitely worth investigating futher then – wonderful stuff :D
Made our version last night and it was delicious……spinach and wild garlic, but the wild garlic had to be a couple of spoons pesto because the fresh is already ended….posted a link to you recipe too….thanks for the inspiration…..
I’m really pleased you had a go! :D
Lol, goats eat a lot of things, but I have found out that they don’t eat everything! Dandelions would be fair game, paper and wood products yes, but tin cans and things like that ours would never even consider it! They also just eat the bark off large branches, and won’t eat the actual wood. Oh, and only occasionally will they eat a star thistle!
What do your goats do when they’re not eating? Do you raise them for cheese making? I am a big goat cheese fan :D
Well, this year I am milking them, but really not producing enough to do anything except a small amount of milk for ourselves. Most of it is going to the doe kid who’s mom wouldn’t feed her. In years past I have made goat cheese, feta, mozzarella, but have also used it for buttermilk and yogurt. Feta is the best though! When we first moved here we were overrun with a lot of brush which the goats, combined with a couple steers helped reduce down to almost nothing. It’s amazing what wildlife comes onto our property now, with it cleared so well by the domestic animals. The elk and deer come down to eat at night. We have seen bobcats, and footprints from cougars (not so happy about that). There are bear on the hill, from what our neighbors have told us.
We also raise the goats for meat, so a certain percentage lead really happy lives and then are put in the freezer. It’s just part of raising farm animals.
I know very little about farming so this is fascinating to me – I’ve eaten goat meat, mainly in Greece, but I remember being gifted some goat sausage years ago from a friend who worked one summer on an organic farm, which was delicious.
It is really lean meat, and is always best when from a young kid just off milk. Right around 4 months old to around 10 months old are the best times to put them in the freezer. Older goats tend to have a stronger flavor, which my husband actually prefers. I tend to like really young goats meat, because it is really mild. It’s a pretty versatile meat though, because it’s somewhere between chicken and beef in flavor, you can use recipes for either. Our goats are pretty spoiled, and live a leisurely life. They are never in feed lots, and are fed good food. It’s a good life.
I would love to see some photos one day on your blog maybe of your goats… :)
I’ve always been intrigued by making gnocchi as I love all things spud but my one taste of shop bought gnocchi was rather grim. Making home-made gnocchi re-emerged at the top of my ‘I wonder…’ list when I grew purple spuds. They’d be an amazing colour surely?
Yes, they would be! And you said that the purple spuds were dry, so maybe they would be good for this? Speaking of which, we planted them earlier this week. Fingers crossed for purple roast potato bread and maybe gnocchi in a few months time…. ;)
Well done Joanna. I too had an unfortunate experience with gnocchi di papate some (many) years ago – I think the potatoes were too wet so I tried to compensate with more flour… the texture was less than ‘light’ and the flavour rather too much of flour… I’ve tended to stick to gnocchi alla romana since then. Perhaps it’s time to revisit an old recipe.
I’ve never made a la romana, just looked it up – is this the sort of recipe you make http://italianfood.about.com/od/gnocchi/r/blr0166a.htm ? Semolina and milk, sounds very different from these ones ? I have no real benchmark by which to judge my own, except I thought they were pretty good and my ancient memories of course. ;)
Yeah, the only thing they have in common I suppose is the name… Very tasty though :)
Brilliant stuff, your gnocchi look great. I’m liking your blog very much.
Thanks Big Flavours! I see on your blog you’re a wild garlic fan too :)
I made this again today with wild garlic rather than nettles….really delicious
Great! Hope you’re having a lovely break xx :)
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