Fiddlehead ferns, nettles and ricotta gnudi

Fiddlehead ferns

Fiddlehead ferns

Gluten-free nettle and ricotta gnudi

Gluten-free nettle and ricotta gnudi

Something mossy, something pickled and definitely, dairy.

This is how I described PNW cooking to a friend who was visiting Seattle last week. Well, this is obviously a mere simplification and before I get grief about it, yes, let’s point out that here we have amazing shellfish, fungus, berries, root vegetables and stone fruits… the list is endless. But something about the moss, the pickling and the dairy… inherent.

Nettle and ricotta gnudi with fiddlehead ferns | Cannelle et VanilleStinging nettles | Cannelle et vanilleCherry blossoms in Seattle | Cannelle et VanilleCannelle et VanilleCannelle et VanilleCannelle et Vanille

The Puget Sound, the mild rain, the flowering trees, the blue light have all shaped me so much. Day trips to the surrounding islands on the ferries. A walk on Discovery Park before work.

Spring has brought us stinging nettles which are easy to forage in the city parks. Culinary delicacies that you will find in many restaurant menus in the city. The funny thing is that I grew up with stinging nettles all around me in the Basque Country. Asunak, they are called in Basque. I believe they had medicinal uses back in the day but I didn’t grow up eating them. They were simply the weeds to stay away from. But now, I cannot get enough. I took the kids to Discovery Park several times and with rubber gloves at hand, we picked bags full of nettles. As you might know, they can leave quite the rash on bare skin so beware. They are actually really nutritious and I have been using them in recipes in lieu of other greens.

Then there are fiddlehead ferns, which can be foraged in the forests around Seattle. Funny looking, their texture is similar to asparagus and in fact, I cook them in recipes just as I would asparagus. They can be slightly more bitter, but so tasty. Great with a bit of fat, I would say – a touch of cream or a bit of bacon.

Here is a gluten-free gnudi recipe I have been making quite a bit lately. Sometimes with nettles, sometimes bare. A good basic recipe that you can adapt to include your favorite sauce. If you cannot find nettles in your area, you can use spinach or omit it all together. Fiddlehead ferns can also be hard to find depending where you live but you can use asparagus instead. This dish is also great with sauteed mushrooms, crushed tomatoes (during the peak season) or simply sauteed with butter and herbs.

Spring has been good so far.

Stinging nettles | Cannelle et VanilleNettle and ricotta gnudi | Cannelle et VanilleNettle and ricotta gnudi with fiddlehead ferns | Cannelle et Vanille

Gluten-free nettle and ricotta gnuddi with fiddlehead ferns

Note: If you cannot find nettles in your area, you can use some spinach or omit it all together. Fiddlehead ferns can also be hard to find depending where you live and you can use asparagus instead. This dish is also great with sauteed mushrooms.

serves 4 to 6

For the nettle and ricotta gnudi

2 cups packed stinging nettle leaves, rinsed (make sure to wear gloves while dealing with nettles! They are ok to touch with bare hands after they have been cooked but until then, don’t touch!)
1 pound (450 g) whole-milk ricotta
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup (40 g) potato starch
1/4 cup (35 g) superfine brown rice flour, plus more for dusting

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the stinging nettles into the water (careful not to touch with bare hands) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain into a colander and as soon as it is cool enough to handle, ring out any excess water. Finely chop and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, chopped nettles, egg, egg yolk, salt and black pepper. Add the potato starch and superfine brown rice flour and fold until combined. The dough will feel very sticky and that is ok. This will allow them to be very pillowy when cooked.

Dust a baking sheet with superfine brown rice flour. Take two soup tablespoons and dip in superfine brown rice flour as well. Take tablespoon of gnudi dough with one of the spoons and with the help of the other shape little cones. Gently drop onto the floured baking sheet. Proceed until you have used all the dough. You should have between 25 and 28 gnudi (more or less). Dust the top with a bit more superfine brown rice flour and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. You could also freeze them at this point. If you freeze them, there is no need to thaw them out before cooking. Directly add them to boiling water.

In the meantime, cook the sauce. Cook the gnudi right before serving so plan for that.

Fiddlehead fern sauce

10 ounces (290 g) fiddlehead ferns (or diced green asparagus)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely diced herbs (I used chervil and chives)
1 ounce (30 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt. Add the fiddlehead ferns and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water until they are cool. Set aside.

Fill that pot of water again and bring to a boil. Season the water generously with salt. Add the gnudi in batches (I had to do it in two batches). Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the gnudi with a slotted spatula onto a plate and cook second batch.

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil, shallot and garlic and cook until the garlic turns lightly gold but do not burn. Add the fiddlehead ferns, pinch of salt, heavy cream and herbs. Cook until the cream bubbles slightly. Add the cooked gnudi. Try not to toss them around the pan too much or they might fall apart. Gently shake the pan so the sauce covers them. If the sauce is a bit dry, add a little bit of the cooking liquid. Remove from heat and top with f=grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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28 Responses to “Fiddlehead ferns, nettles and ricotta gnudi”

  1. Lucy says:

    This is such an interesting dish, I’ve never used ferns or nettles in cooking before but I’d love to try it out (although maybe someone else can disarm the nettles for me!) I imagine this tastes really fresh for the springtime :) xxx
    La Lingua : Food, Life, Love, Travel, Friends, Italy

  2. Rosa says:

    A fabulous dish! So original and mouthwatering. I’d love to know how fiddlehead ferns taste…



  3. Such a springy and delightful meal! So vibrant. I’ve never tried nettles or fiddleheads. So curious :)

  4. Giulia says:

    I fell into a bed of stinging nettles once as a kid…I try to keep away from them, but to be honest I don’t really see them around my area here in Canada. We seem to have to dodge poison ivy around here though.
    I love all of your water photos…so calm and relaxing. BTW…did you hear your ears ring yesterday? I was talking about you with Paul Vitale ;) Lot’s of positive things!

  5. Melissa says:

    Beautiful post Aran. Captures the season so perfectly. I don’t eat them too often but love nettles. This recipe looks perfect! Enjoy the blossoms.

  6. Thank you for this. I thought fiddleheads were only to be found here in the northeast. So glad to know you have them out west, too. The dish looks delicious. Must try!

  7. Juliana says:

    This recipe shouts “Spring!”and looks delicious.

  8. Zoë says:

    I have nettles, fiddleheads, ramps and asparagus in my garden just waiting to come up after the long winter. I’m looking forward to using them in this delicious looking dish!

  9. leaca says:

    We have these all over in the summer here in Alaska. I know the Natives eat them and I never thought of eating them myself. I will have to pick some this summer.

  10. Vibeke says:

    Here in the Netherlands we also have lots of stinging nettles. Among other things they make cheese with it :) (really).
    A very effective plant to beat the stinging in Euskara is called (I have looked it up, thank you Wikipedia) ‘ezpata-plantaina’ (latin name: plantago major) or its other variety ‘plantain’, ‘zain-belar’ or ‘arpin’ (in latin: plantago lanceolata), or in English ‘broadleaf plantain’/’greater plantain’ or (other variety) ‘ribwort plantain’.
    It really works. Just rub some leaves of this plant on the itching spot during a few minutes and quite rapidly you will feel that the itching disappears.

  11. caitlyn says:

    This looks amazing! Do you think that goat cheese would work instead of ricotta? I’m not sure if that’s a stupid question but I’m not sure if it would hold together the same if I swapped cheeses (I imagine it would) :).

    You’re amazing :). Your eye for photography and creativity with food.

  12. Here in Bellevue, WA — behind my house there is a forest (Coal Creek connecting to Cougar Mountain). I hike it every day and have noticed the little Fiddlehead Ferns popping up. I’ve always wondered if those were in fact the ones to use in cooking. Glad to have learned through your post that they are! Little baby nettles are also starting to come out — you’ve completely inspired me to create something with them. Thank you ♥

  13. P Cox says:

    Always wanted to try making gnudi! These look hard to resist!

  14. autumn says:

    lovely! the gnudi look heavenly. I adore nettles. They’re such a perfect spring food.

  15. Alanna says:

    Aran, your photos are so breathtaking. My co-op stocks fiddleheads every spring, and I’ve never known what to do with them. Thank you for showing me. These look exquisite and I cannot wait to try them.

  16. Sam says:

    Did I miss where the nettles come in? I am guessing they get added to the dough at some point?

  17. Sam says:

    Did I miss the part where you incorporate the nettles? Do they go in the dough or the sauce?

  18. Emmi says:

    I have been going through your blog and just wanted to say that I really like it :)

  19. These look so decadent but at the same time so delicate, and your pictures are all stunning!

  20. Annika says:

    I believe that this is possible the most original recipe I have ever seen anywhere! I wish I could lick my screen and taste the dish!

  21. Wonderful post and the recipe looks amazing.
    Thanks for sharing such valuable post. :-)

  22. Lucie says:

    It looks beautifully fresh and springy! I’ve never tried fiddlehead ferns as they are not available in my country and I’ve never been to any country where they are usually served in the right time of the year… I would really love to try it because it reminds me of beechnuts which I used to eat on forest trips with my Dad when I was a kid… Maybe some day :-)

  23. […] sounds like an amazing spring dish I’d like to […]

  24. […] our relationship to food through actively styling our lives intrigues me.  Also anything with fiddleheads is like um yes please so […]

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