After the torrential rainfall we got earlier in the month, a new crop of tender green nettles has popped up all over the garden here in Athens. In the process of clearing out one of the vegetable beds (wearing gloves!) to plant wild artichoke plants, I now had a colander full of fresh vibrant green stinging nettles.
My fist thought was Cretan tsigarista, a mixture of sautéed wild greens, which I love. Yes, certainly some nettles from the garden will eventually end up in sautéed greens and perhaps then into pitakia (little pies). However, there is plenty here to begin to experiment with something new. Strettine, a fresh nettle pasta from northern Italy, usually cut as linguine was my second thought. But, with my pasta machine in the UK, rolling out pasta and cutting uniform long thin strips by hand sounded a little daunting.
Then, with a little internet research, two other possibilities kept cropping up (excuse the pun!) – old fashioned British nettle and potato soup (easy and bookmarked for later) and nettle and cheese filled ravioli. Then, all these ideas rolled into one thought. Why not make those wonderful Eastern European filled dumplings called pierogis?
Nettle & Potato Pierogi
Nettle Strettine dough, filled (ravioli-like) with cheese and potato – the traditional flavour combination of nettle and potato soup. Frozen, they can be a make-ahead dish for the busy holiday season. And, they are a nice seasonal colour!
Makes approximately 2 dozen
- approximately 1/2 cup cooked nettles (about 2 to 3 cups fresh)
- 1 egg
- 200g flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 150g mashed potatoes (approximately 1 medium to large potato)
- 75g sharp cheese such as a Cheddar
- salt and pepper
Make the dough by first cleaning the nettles while wearing rubber gloves. It is best to use fresh nettle tops while the plant is still young. Using your rubber gloves or tongs, put them in salted boiling water for a few minutes. Drain them in a colander to get as much water out. The cooking process has removed the sting and they are now safe to handle without gloves or tongs. Tip the cooked and drained nettles onto paper towels to dry a little further.
When cool, place the nettles, the egg and the oil in the food processer to purée. Measure the flour in a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the middle and scrape in the nettle mixture.
Mix using a spoon at first, but you may find it easier to use your hands as the mixture begins to come together. Knead the dough – this can be done in the bowl – until you have a uniform green ball.
Rest the dough, wrapped in clingfilm, for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. It can easily be left overnight.
Meanwhile make the filling by peeling the potato, cutting it into cubes and boiling it for about 10 to 15 minutes until soft. Drain and mash the potato before putting it into a mixing bowl. Once cool, add the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface – as thin as possible. Using a 3.25cm diameter circular cutter, make rounds.
On one side of each round put a rounded teaspoon of the filling.
With your finger, wet the circumference of the circle with water, fold making sure there are no pockets of air. Pinch the edges to seal.
It is best at this point to freeze the pierogis. First place them in a single layer on a parchment lined tray. Place in the freezer for an hour or two. Once they are frozen, they can be stored in plastic bags.
When you are ready to cook, bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Then, take out what you need – anywhere from 3 to 4 pierogis per person for a side dish or 6 to 8 as a main meal. Boil them directly from frozen for about 8 to 10 minutes, letting them float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon.
While the pierogis are being boiled, melt a knob of butter in a large frying pan and add finely chopped onions. Sauté the onions until they are golden. Alternatively, if you have some lipig (onion marmalade) to hand, a few spoonfuls can be added at the last minute to the butter to warm. Add the cooked pierogis, shaking the pan to shift the dumplings. Serve with an optional dollop of sour cream.
* * *
Offcuts – (true) maltagliati – are a great byproduct. Once part dried these scraps can be cooked in salted boiling water for a few minutes and served with a sauce of your choice. They can also be frozen and then directly cooked for a few minutes longer than from the fresh state.