As a child, one of the things that was sure to spoil a day in the park was a leg covered in welts from having run into a patch of stinging nettles.
I know that nettle tea has been used for a long time to treat everything from arthritis and allergies to intestinal and urinary problems but it wasn't until a few years ago that I started seeing recipes for things like soups and gnocchi featuring what I always thought of as an evil weed.
Widely recognized as a superfood, nettles are incredibly high in vitamins A and C and rich in nutrients including calcium, choline, magnesium, boron, iron, iodine, silica, sulfur, potassium, chlorophyll, histamine, serotonin and amino acids.
I have made a few dishes with them over the past few springs and really enjoy their gorgeous colour, while their flavour is reminiscent of the smell of spring, almost straw-like. I used them to stuff these homemade ravioli, which were very simple and totally delicious. The stings disappear after just thirty seconds or so of blanching, so they become safe to handle and become so incredibly bright green.
I collected my nettles from the woods behind our house, taking care to wear boots, wear gloves and select just the new tops of the nettles farther from the path, which were unlikely to have been anointed with dog pee.
Nettle Ravioli with Sage and Pine Nut Butter
serves 2, takes 1 hour, 45 including dough chilling time
200g (7 oz) tipo 00 flour
1 tsp water (maybe)
150g fresh ball mozerella
1 clove garlic, crushed
about 30 young nettle tops
sea salt to taste
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1oog (3.5 oz) good quality butter
small handful pine nuts
2 sprigs sage, leaves picked
Make the dough first by putting the flour and the eggs and a pinch of salt into a food processor. Pulse on high for a 30 seconds or so, until combined well into a smooth, pliable dough, adding a little water if the mixture is too dry.
Knead the dough together for a minute before wrapping in cling film and chilling for an hour.
Blanch the nettles for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and plunge into very cold tap water or ice water to stop the cooking, drain well.
Tear the mozzerella into chunks and put into the food processor with the nettles and garlic and pulse until fine but not paste-like, you want to keep a little texture in the nettles.
Stir the salt and parmesan into the mixture and set aside until you're ready to use it.
Cut the ball of dough into two and on a floured surface, roll each half into a long sheet thin enough to read the paper through. If you have a pasta maker, all the better. I, on the other hand am po', so I have yet to buy one.
Brush excess flour off each sheet using a pastry brush.
Use a teaspoon to put equal amounts of the filling along the sheet in two rows, keeping about 3cm (1 1/2") in between.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil.
Use a pastry brush to wet the pasta a little all around the filling, then carefully lower the top sheet of pasta over the top.
Use your fingers to press down around the mounds of filling, taking care to push out any air and then use a pizza cutter to trim down all four sides of the dough and then to divide the individual ravioli.
Check again for air pockets and make sure all the edges are sealed, then drop them one at a time into the pot of boiling water. Boil for 10-12 minutes, until pale and tender but not soggy.
While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat, then add the pine nuts and fry for a minute, until both the pine nuts and butter are starting to go golden, then turn off the heat and stir in the sage leaves.
Drain the ravioli and spoon into bowls. Drizzle with the butter and scatter the pine nuts all over the top. Grate a little more parmesan over the top and eat immediately with a big glass of champagne.