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.
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.
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 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.