An Italian Recipe For Stinging Nettle with Gnocchi
There are very few gardeners, or children that have not had battles with the common yet ingenious stinging nettle, but there is more to this plant than may first meet the eye. Urtica dioica is a very common and widespread plant that can be found in Europe, Asia, N Africa and N America and its capacity for inflicting pain and infesting wasteland around abandoned houses is known to everyone. However this plant is more than just a simple nuisance in the garden, it is in fact a valuable herb and culinary plant, which is more than worthy of a mention!
An herbaceous plant growing to 1-2 meters tall and dying down in winter the nettle can occupy any piece of wasteland in the blink of an eye, particularly near human dwellings. Thriving on soils that are high in Nitrogen and phosphates its relationship is intrinsically linked to that of man, in that it can be found wherever human or animal waste has enriched the soil, rendering it a companion of the human for many a century.
In fact even Shakespeare coined a phrase in “Hotspur” (Henry IV, part I, act II, scene 3) by saying “Out of this nettle (danger) we grasp this flower (safety)”, giving rise to the modern figure of speech “Grasp the nettle”, meaning to face or confront a situation that could otherwise easily be ignored or deferred. This arose from the fact that the way to confront the stinging nettle effectively is to grasp the plant firmly and confidently, instead of brushing against it in a cowardly manner. But what of that sting? The ingenious sting is created by a chemical cocktail of a Histamine, an Acetylcholine and a 5 Hydroxyptamine all contained in a hollow, brittle needle, which when brushed against human skin breaks, releasing it’s cocktail thus creating an intense burning sensation, by now known to all but the luckiest of human meddlers!
The properties of this common plant have been noted for centuries and its healing properties were well known to those industrious Romans who transported this plant throughout their vast empire, Europe, N Africa and, they were almost certainly responsible for introducing it to the UK. This weed was probably used even then, as it is to this day, as an expectorant for coughs, eczema, gout, kidney stones and even for urinary tract infections (Cystitis) in women. The nettle can, however, also be transformed into many fine, and respectable meals from salads to risotto’s, or into a healthy and hearty, natural sugo for potato gnocchi that will impress any guest by following this simple and original Italian recipe;
GNOCCHI WITH PESTO D’ORTICA (Gnocchi with stinging Nettle pesto)
- 150g Fresh, boiled nettle leaves (to make Pesto d’ortica)
- 600g Potatoes
- 4 Sun-dried tomatoes
- 50g pistachio nuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 200g Wholemeal flour
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
Boil potatoes, cut into pieces and pass them through a vegetable filter. Paste in the flour until well mixed, then separate the mixture into thumb-size lumps, or “gnocchi”, cover them in sieved flour and leave them to sit for an hour or so.
In the meantime blend the tomatoes with the cooked nettle leaves, pistachio’s and oil until creamy.
Drop the gnocchi into boiling, salted water and when they rise to the surface they are cooked.
Add the mixture to the gnocchi, decorate with a few pistachio nuts and enjoy with any red wine that you can find in the house…
The next time you are stung by this terror in the garden remember that revenge can be sweet, and can be sought by transforming it into a number of delicious and nutritious dishes – a just revenge I feel…!
Other useful varieties include; Urtica californica Urtica gracilis