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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nettle, Wild Garlic and Feta Ravioli | You've Got Meal!

Finally, spring is here! After all that snow and cold it was about time nature kicked things up. And the coming of spring translates into the rebirth of some great seasonal greens that are best in this time of the year: nettle and ramps. 

What can be said about the nettle? Yes, it hurts when you clean it and prepare it for cooking, Mrs. G’s blistered hands are a testimony to that. But after you manage to wash it and you boil it down, the result is a true health bomb. Nettle is high in iron and it’s great for getting out of the winter. In my opinion, nettle  basically represents spring’s way of kicking winter right in the, well, let’s call them almonds, if you catch my drift. Around here, nettles are foraged from the edges of the forests, but you have to be careful about the plants, make sure you get the young, spring, nettle, not the remnants of the nettle from last fall. I might get overexcited about nettle, but I have to bring this up. 

There are a couple of foods, that for us, mean more than just taste, they also mean memories of family, childhood or loved ones. And nettle means one single thing: Mrs. G’s grandmother’s garlic and nettle stew, served with some baby salad sour soup and polenta. She only makes that once or twice, in the beginning of spring and it’s the healthiest thing we’ve ever had, using only 3-4 ingredients that are handpicked by her from her garden or from the forest. Absolute delight.

Now, ramps. Also known as wild garlic, these tasty greens have a fragrant (you’ve guessed it) garlic punch, maybe a little bit of onion when they’re younger. You can eat the leaves, but also the bulb, although I have to admit we’ve never tried it. Ramps are also an amazing source of vitamin A and C, and are great in salads or in seafood side-dishes.
And on top of using nettle and ramps, we had some amazing, fresh, crisp, slightly peppery wild cress, also foraged, that we used to garnish the pasta. What can I say, it was a feast of spring.

So, I think I rambled enough about early spring greens. Let’s get cracking on the ingredients: :

  1. home made pasta dough for the ravioli, 
  2. 300 grams of washed and cleaned nettle leaves, 
  3. 150 grams of ramps/ wild garlic, carefully cleaned, 
  4. 150 grams of good quality feta cheese, 
  5. pepper, 
  6. parmesan, 
  7. good quality olive oil, 
  8. dried chili seeds, 
  9. wild cress. 
We’ve talked before about how we made the ravioli, specifically here, so I’m not going to dwell on that. 

  • For the filling, boil the nettle – be prepared, it will take a couple of hours on medium heat in order for the plant to reach that state where it basically melts in your spoon. Another health tip here, don’t throw away the water you boiled the nettle in, it’s can be very healthful in treating anemia, just make sure you strain it in order to avoid getting small amounts of sand or straws in your drink. 
  • After boiling, remove the nettle from heat and drain it well, make sure there isn’t any liquid left in the wilted leaves. 
  • Next, finely chop both the nettle and the fresh ramps. You can cook the ramps for a minute or so, to reduce that too, but these leaves were fairly young and I preferred them fresh. 
  • Mix the greens with the feta and some pepper- I think the cheese has enough salt, but feel free to adjust according to your ingredients. 
  • Make the ravioli and cook them for about 3-4 minutes on salted water. 
  • As a sauce for the pasta we wanted to keep things very simple and elegant, so we decided to just use a very nice, slightly spicy and fruity olive oil. For another layer of kick, we added some chili seeds and some dried and grinded chili. We just put the chili and the oil in a small glass, covered it with a coaster, and gave it a good shake- you’ll get a sort of fast forward infused oil. 
  • Drip, don’t pour, this oil on the ravioli, grate a small amount of parmesan and cover the pasta in a generous amount of fresh cress leaves. 
  • For a small variation, we also poached an egg that we’ve placed on top, it was a nice touch, but you can decide to leave it.

Normally, I can’t leave a nice pasta dinner without a glass of wine, but seeing as this whole recipe was about health, I’m going to leave that part out…. Who am I kidding, don’t forget to grab a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc for this one and get eating. The greens have enough health in them to save that one glass (bottle) of wine, I think….


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