Spring is finely taking hold here in Piemonte. I am always surprised at how just a few kilometers can make a difference in the hues of green we see as the winter world starts to recede. Three weeks ago, the forsythia bushes in Torino were already in full bloom while here they were still just budding. With the first signs of warm weather, I always look forward to foraging for the wild plants we like to eat in this part of the world. People have been out for weeks collecting dandelion greens which I frankly find too bitter. We instead wait for the tender tips of stinging nettles to pop up at the edge of the woods that border on the fields near the fossi. The translation for fossi is ditches but it’s not really accurate in this case. Man-made ravines are a better description, and these were created so long ago to drain what was a swampy area, it is hard to tell the work wasn’t done by mother nature herself. Nature has taken over and nettles abound so a big batch of tajarin, dialect for tagliatelle, with the addition of nettles is the perfect choice for our weekend menu. We are also still locked into a red zone so we can’t really go anywhere…it’s a good thing I like to cook!
Picking nettles can be painful if you don’t plan ahead. While it’s possible to pluck the tops by gently grabbing the stem without getting stung, a better bet is to simply wear gloves. We pick nettles well away from the road so there is less pollution, and also less dust but they still need to be washed. I let them soak for a few minutes while I heat a big pot of water to blanch them. Once the water is boiling, toss them in for a couple of minutes before draining them well.
True to my nature, I eyeballed my ingredients and went from there. I ended up using about twice as much flour than I expected. The proportions below will easily feed 10 people, and it took me a couple of hours from start to finish. I used 00 but all-purpose flour works well too. Next time I make these I am going to try using a bit of Semolina, maybe 20%.
Tajarin con le Ortiche
1kg flour plus more for rolling and dusting.
3 cups of blanched stinging nettles well drained and finely chopped.
Make a well in the center of your flour on a large work surface. I make my dough directly on the countertop (granite) while my husband prefers to work on a wooden board. Put your eggs and nettles in the middle of the well and start working it with a fork until you can start working the dough by hand. If your dough is too dry, you can always add a bit of water and if it’s too soft, add flour. Once your dough is ready to roll, cut off individual pieces to work one at a time and wrap the rest of the dough in a towel. Add flour as needed while rolling it out. On my Atlas pasta machine, the final thickness of my pasta was #2. While you can make and eat these immediately, the texture is better if you let them dry overnight. If you make too many, you can always freeze the pasta on trays after they have dried a bit.
When ready to cook, throw them into a large pot of well-salted water and check for doneness after 2-3 minutes. Drain and dress as you like. Butter and sage is one of the simplest ways to enjoy these. Toss in a generous amount of Parmigiano Reggiano and you will end up with a delicious, creamy bowl of pasta that should please even the pickiest of eaters.