These light and tasty dumplings are quite different from (let’s face it, somewhat heavy) potato gnocchi. They are made with wilted nettles and ricotta cheese, poached and complimented with tangy tomato sauce. They make an excellent seasonal starter or supper dish. Serve 5-6 gnocchi per person, with a little sauce, not too much, and parmesan.
Young wilted nettles taste a bit like pea pods, if you cook them longer, say in a soup, they begin to take on a more earthy, iron-y tang. However you cook them, they make delicious greens.
Get your rubber gloves on and pick the youngest leaves at the top of the plant (the top 4 are best), or the young shoots as they break through the earth. Older bigger leaves may contain tough fibers. Pick a substantial amount, enough to fill a shopping carrier bag, then take them home and wash them in a bowl of water (remembering to keep the gloves on). My bag weighed in at 425g, just under a pound.
To wilt nettles
Place in the washed nettles in a colander and shake the water off the nettle tops. Place them in a large pan over a low heat and put a lid. The small amount of water clinging to the leaves will be enough to steam them. Wilt them down for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should remain bright dark green. Remove from heat and place back in the colander to cool and drain. They are now soft and ready to eat. For this recipe you will also need to squeeze out excess water with your fists, when cooled, or there will be too much liquid to hold the gnocci together.
A large bag will make a ball of cooked nettles that will fit in your hand.
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tub (240g) ricotta cheese
85g (3 oz) grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
Some flour for rolling
Wilt the nettles as instructed above, allow to cool and then squeeze the water from them gently with your fists.
Now place the nettles and ricotta in a large bowl and mash together with a fork. When well mixed, add the eggs, parmesan, a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon. If you have time, pop the bowl in the fridge for an hour or so, it helps to stiffen the mixture.
Now sprinkle some flour on a flat plate or shallow bowl. Take a dessert spoon of the mixture, shape it into an oval gnocci in your (wet) hands and roll lightly in the flour. Alternatively, can also use two spoons to make neat little quenelles http://www.finecooking.com/item/13273/making-quenelles.Place the completed gnocchi on another clean plate, taking care not to pile them on top of each other.
Meanwhile, fill a large pan with water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Carefully drop the gnocchi in batches of 8-10, into the water. They will sink to the bottom. When they rise to the surface, continue to cook for about 1 minute and they are done.
Lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon and keep warm while you finish the rest. Serve with ‘Cherry Tomato Sauce’ (see below) and parmesan.
1tblsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 small punnet fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped roughly
1 tsp tomato puree (optional)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
You need tasty tomatoes for this sauce and it is difficult to get good tomatoes in the early months of spring in Dartmoor. I use cherry tomatoes which have more flavour and also look attractive with the gnocci. The sauce is barely cooked, so they hold their shape. You don’t need much sauce for the gnocci or it will overwhelm the dish.
Heat the oil and cook the onion until translucent and golden. Meanwhile, cut every little tomato in half. When the onion has softened, add the halved tomatoes, tomato puree, a dash of sugar to counter the acidity and a good pinch of salt. Cook for 1 minute, add a spoon of water, stir once to mix the ingredients, cook for another 2 minutes adding a little more water if necessary to keep the sauce loose. So that’s three minutes in all. The cherry tomatoes will have softened and the sauce is rich and tangy.