Foraging for wild foods can be intimidating. The delicious and the deadly can look similar and occupy similar environments. Stinging nettle is a great plant for the novice forager. Simply touch the plant and it will tell you if you’ve identified it correctly!
If you’ve ever brushed up against a stinging nettle plant you already understand the plant’s common name. Many species in the genus Urtica (we collected Urtica urens – technically “burning nettle” – but Urtica dioica is a more familiar species for most and can be treated the same way) are armed with stinging hairs that are nature’s example of a hypodermic needle. The hairs are filled with a liquid that is injected into the skin when an animal brushes up against the plant. You will have no doubt that you’ve encountered stinging nettle when you are that animal – the pain is not terrible but certainly not insignificant.
You can find nettle growing in areas where the soil has been disturbed. The edges of farms, fields, vacant lots, etc. are prime nettle habitat. The sting can deter some would-be foragers, but be not afraid! A sturdy pair of gloves and some scissors are all that you need for a successful nettle forage. Do not despair if you are stung. The reaction to stinging nettle is nothing like poison ivy or poison oak. Though it may raise a temporary welt, nettle “wounds” do not persist for very long. Some even forage for it with bare hands.
And why, you might ask, should you risk pain, welts, and a potentially long, sweaty walk to eat this plant? Well, because nettles are simply delicious. This online retailer sells them for $17.50 per pound. But, in the right place you can easily gather that quantity in ten minutes and their sting is completely disarmed after a quick blanch in water. Nettles are well worth the effort!
Knowing this, OurLocaltopia recently set out to make some decadent Nettle with Browned Butter and Sage Ravioli, using the aforementioned wild-foraged burning nettle. We’ve received many questions about using nettle as an ingredient, so we decided to chronicle our experience with a short video of the process. Have a look! The recipe and directions are below, so try this dish in your own kitchen!
Foraged Nettle and Egg Ravioli Recipe
OurLocaltopia was inspired by Osteria Mozza’s “Fresh Ricotta and Egg Ravioli with Brown Butter,” featured at their Los Angeles restaurant and in their Mozza Cookbook. If you can find stinging nettle, use it! It’s unique color and verdant flavor are quite unique and fodder for lots of good conversation. If you can’t find stinging nettle, substitute your favorite dark leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, etc.
“I’m generally turned off when people describe food as being “sexy,” but sexy is the best description I have for this warm, luscious, pillowy raviolo. The word raviolo is the singular for ravioli, and this is one big, square raviolo filled with ricotta and a raw egg yolk. We are not at all ashamed to tell you that this is a direct rip-off from Michael Tusk, the chef and owner of Quince restaurant in San Francisco. The first time I had it, I thought it was one of the best things I had ever eater, and for sure the single best pasta dish I’d ever put in my mouth. When our servers bring this to the table, they suggest to the guests that they cut into the raviolo starting from the center so the egg pours out onto the plate into the pool of browned butter that the raviolo sits in. It’s sexy. What else can I say? We recommend you use farm-fresh eggs with bright orange yolks. You will need a 3 x 3-inch fluted pastry cutter to make these.” – Nancy Silverton
For the ravioli:
1 pound fresh nettle leaves, blanched, any large stems removed, and finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 pound fresh ricotta (about 2 cups)
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons heavy cream, plus more as needed
Semolina for dusting
8 extra-large farm-fresh eggs
For finishing and serving the pasta:
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
18 fresh sage leaves
Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
To make the ravioli, combine the nettle, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, sugar, and nutmeg. Stir to combine the seasonings with the cheese. Stir in the cream, adding more if necessary to obtain the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. (you can make the filling up to two days in advance. Transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve the ravioli.) Scoop up 1/3 cup of the ricotta filling and form it into a disk about ½ inch high and 2 ¼ inches in diameter. Set the disk on a plate and repeat, forming the remaining ricotta into a total of 8 disks. Set them aside while you prepare the dough for the ravioli.
To make the ravioli, cut eight 4-inch square pieces of parchment and dust two baking sheets with semolina. Roll the dough out to the third thinnest setting on a pasta sheeter (number 6 using a KitchenAid attachment), stacking the sheets of dough on one of the parchment-lined baking sheets. When you have rolled out all of the dough, dust a flat work surface with flour and lay one sheet of the dough on the floured surface. Place three or four ricotta disks on the dough, leaving 4 inches between each disk and 1 ½ to 2 inches of dough on all the sides of the outer disks. Use the back of a spoon or our fingers to make a crater deep enough to hold an egg yolk in the center of each disk. Separate one egg, reserving the white and carefully sliding the yolk into one crater. Repeat, filling the remaining 2 or 3 disks in the same way (you don’t need to reserve any more whites). Using a pastry brush, brush egg white around each cheese disk. Lift another fresh pasta sheet on top of the 3 or 4 disks, covering each with overlapping dough (you’ll need to create a reliable seal between the two sheets of pasta). Without lifting the raviolo, cup both hands around the cheese so that the edges of your pinky fingers press down around the cheese, sealing the raviolo closed. Repeat, covering and sealing the remaining ravioli. Use a 3 x 3-inch fluted cookie cutter or a pastry wheel to cut each raviolo, discarding the scraps of dough around it. Place the ravioli in the prepared baking sheet and repeat, assembling the remaining ravioli in the same way. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to boil them, or for up to 8 hours.
Fill two wide pots with 6 quarts of water each. Add 6 tablespoons of salt to each pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Have a slotted spoon and a clean dishtowel handy for lifting the ravioli out of the water. While the water is coming to a boil, make the brown butter sauce. Place the butter and sage leave in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally to brown the butter evenly and prevent it from burning, until the bubbles subside and the butter is dark brown with a nutty, toasty smell. Reduce the heat to low to keep the butter warm while you cook the pasta.
Remove the ravioli from the refrigerator and, one at a time, lift the parchment holding each raviolo off the baking sheet and gently drop the raviolo with the paper into the water, adding 4 ravioli to each pot. (The parchment will quickly separate and will be easy to remove from the water.) When you have dropped all the ravioli, remove and discard the parchment paper, partially cover the pots to return the water to a boil quickly, and keep it boiling. Cook the ravioli for 4 minutes.
With a clean dishtowel in one hand and a slotted spoon or spatula in the other, lift one raviolo out of the water and onto the dishtowel to blot it dry, and then carefully place it in the center of a dinner plate. Repeat with the remaining ravioli. Pour the brown butter over the ravioli, dividing it evenly. Place one of the sage leaves on top of each raviolo, discarding the remaining leaves. Use a microplane or another fine grater to grate a light dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano over each raviolo, and serve.
Jonathan Duffy Davis & Jonathan Dye