I promised I would do a post about nettle pasta. It is easy to make and if you do not have access to fresh nettles, you can always use spinach. Nettles have such a wonderful taste, they are grassier and sweeter than spinach and those flavors really come through with this recipe. I hope you do get a chance to find wild nettles because nettles are so special and so is fresh pasta. The following recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s spinach pasta recipe.
(this recipe is for 1 lb of fresh pasta or 4 dinner portions)
6 cups of fresh nettle leaves
3 cups of unbleached flour
4 large eggs
Pull leaves off of the nettle stems, and soak for several minutes in a sink or large bowl filled with cold water, repeating several times until there are no traces of soil in the water. Put the nettles in a pan with about 1/4 cup of water and a sprinkle of salt. Cover and cook until tender, 5 minutes or less. Drain the nettles and as soon as they are cool enough to handle squeeze the moisture out and chop them coarsely, or put in a food processor to blend. Set aside.
Put flour in a large bowl and create a hole in the center of the flour, this is for your eggs. (Most recipes will tell you to do this on a work surface like a cutting board, but it is easier and less messy to do this in a bowl and you get the same results…) Break the eggs into the hole and add the chopped nettles. Beat the eggs and nettles with a fork until the nettles and eggs are combined. Draw some of the flour over the eggs and mix it in with the for a little at a time until the flour and eggs are combined. Work the eggs and flour together until you have a smooth integrated mixture. When the mass feels good to you and you think it will not take more flour it is ready to knead. (you can take your thumb and press it deeply into the mass, if it comes out clean you are ready to knead…)
Knead the ball of dough for a full 8 minutes until the dough is as smooth as baby’s skin, cover with plastic wrap and put aside to rest on the counter for a half hour (the ball of dough above is before resting, the ball of dough below is after, see the difference?) Then it is ready to thin with a machine to create the tagliatelle.
I cut each ball of dough into quarters and then with each quarter feed it through the pasta machine. Make sure to keep the dough waiting to be thinned in plastic wrap, as it dries out quickly. I feed each quarter through until the second-to-last setting, the last setting is too thin…
Take your thinned pasta, cut it into manageable sheets and feed it through the tagliatelle cutter or you can roll it and cut by hand. Now let the pasta air dry in single layers hanging from a broom handle for 10 minutes or so (i use a paint roller handle and rest it between two chairs) then i make nests which I immediately freeze on a cookie sheet. I freeze all of it, and remove the frozen nests to make pasta, even if i am eating it the same day I make the pasta. After the pasta nests freeze you can put them in a gallon ziploc bag and keep frozen for whenever you want “fresh” pasta.
Then all you have to do is cook the pasta in rapidly boiling salted water for a few minutes. I put the pasta in, and when it floats I remove it, it happens very fast, in a matter of minutes. The pasta should still be very chewy since it will finish cooking in the sauce. This technique is called “in padella” which literally means “in the pan”. As the pasta continues to cook in the pan it absorbs the sauce which makes it taste much better than pouring sauce over cooked pasta.
I made a simple amatriciana, which is a Roman sauce with pancetta and fresh tomatoes, garlic and some pecorino cheese. I think next time I will try a butter sauce, to get the real essence of nettles… but the nettle flavor did hold up to this sauce. If you really get into making fresh pasta, I highly suggest getting Marcella Hazan’s book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She is all you will need to perfect a plate of homemade pasta and I will personally attest that all of her recipes are keepers!
P.S. Since it is now June, don’t think you can’t use wild nettles. You can still harvest them in the wild, just cut off the tops or the smallest leaves of the plant.