Things have been busy in the Forager Weekly household and blog posts have become infrequent. I have a backlog of recipes to post and may put up some of the late spring/early summer recipes I have made over the past month or so as my schedule allows. In the meantime, I am hoping to post a bit more regularly as we round out summer and head into the fall. Here is a fun one to get us rolling again.
The other day while banding birds at the North Branch Nature Center, I brushed up against a patch of stinging nettle that was growing alongside one of our mist net lanes. A moment of anticipation passed as I waited for the sting to set in. I felt a rush of adrenaline as the pain ran through my forearm and little welts rose up where the hairs of the nettle had injected their formic acid. This usually serves as a deterrent to herbivores, but for me it serves as an alert to a plant to be harvested later that afternoon.
Stinging nettle leaves are easily harvested with the aid of gloves and/or scissors. I like to live on the wild side and pick the leaves by pinching each leaf from the top sans glove. The stinging hairs grow on the underside of the leaves and along the stem. This method could lead to the occasional sting from brushing up against an adjacent stem or leaf, but it reminds you of what you are harvesting and brings you that much closer to your food. It also gives the plant a little more of a fighting chance. If you are against hunting deer on a fenced in game farm, I challenge you to extend that ethos to the plant realm and pick your nettles without protective gear. It will be a much more invigorating experience.
Nettles are usually harvested while the leaves are young and tender. During the summer months, the leaves are more well developed and tough, making them less than ideal for wilting and eating as a cooked green. This does not mean that their gastronomic value has been depleted. You can take these more mature leaves, dehydrate them and run them through a coffee grinder to make a beautiful dark green powder to add a rich source of vitamins and minerals to baked goods and pasta dough. This time around, I decided to add some of the nettle powder to a batch of gnocchi.
To make the gnocchi, peel and roughly cut 3 medium sized russet potatoes and boil in salted water until just fork tender. Strain the potatoes and add a cup of powdered stinging nettle leaves, along with 1 and 3/4 cups of whole wheat flour and two large eggs. Season with salt and pepper and proceed to mash the mixture into a dough using a potato masher. Once all ingredients are well incorporated and the dough has formed, take a handful of dough and roll it out on a floured surface and form a long snake about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the dough snake into bite sized portions. From here you can decide whether or not to do the painstaking work of pressing ridges into your gnocchi with a fork. If you plan on making this often (which after tasting this recipe, I do), you may want to invest in a ridged gnocchi board for rolling out the textured ridges on your gnocchi. The plus side of having the ridges is that it gives more surface area for sauces to adhere to.
Once your gnocchi are formed, place them into boiling water and allow them to boil just until they begin to float. After retrieving your gnocchi from the boiling water, you should notice that they have plumped up a bit. Next, you’ll want to transfer your plump gnocchi into a pan and fry in a bit of butter to brown them up, adding a bit of crispiness to each bite. Now it is your choice as to what you’d like to top it with. I whipped up some sauteed chicken of the woods mushroom and thinly sliced zucchini and make a quick cream sauce.
The sauce is easy to make, just saute your chicken of the woods and zucchini slices in a bit of butter and olive oil until both are wilty. Add a bit of pressed garlic right at the end to avoid burning the garlic. Next, put in an additional 1 tablespoon of butter and allow to melt down before adding enough heavy cream to thoroughly coat all the ingredients but not cover. Turn the heat down to low and allow the cream to reduce by half while stirring to avoid burning. Season with salt and pepper. The zucchini in the sauce added a lightness to the cream and slight crunch while the mushroom gave you something a little more robust to chew on. Cooked correctly, the texture of chicken of the woods mushroom should be comparable to perfectly cooked chicken breast while maintaining a mild mushroom flavor.