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Poisonous nettles in my ravioli?

Today was a work day. Heather in her office me in my office on the second floor. I researched more on social media outlets to get the word out on our Cheese, Bread and Honey tour that happens once a year in June. We both were so ‘involved’ in our work, the end of the day came quickly and we were famished.

Brännässla Urtica Dioica

Urtica dioica (poisonous nettles)

Heather says, “Let’s go pick some nettles”. I said “Nettles? What are nettles?” Here’s what wikipedia has to say about them:

Stinging nettle or common nettle, Urtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals.[1] The plant has a long history of use as a medicine and as a food source.

And yes, the nettles in her “orto” (an area on the mountainside, portioned per village resident, reserved for planting” were the stinging variety. Of course. We walked to the orto where we donned our gloves and we went about picking the top parts of the nettles. I was very careful in picking them as she advised me that if I got ‘stuck’ by them, it would be a little painful. I was about finished with picking and feeling safe by wearing my gloves, when my forearm brushed up against the stinging hairs of one of the plants. “Ouch!” I yelled. They look so harmless. No blood, but the area immediately got red. “Here”, Heather said, “rub your forearm on my hair”. “What?” I thought. The voice in my head is just telling me to do it… she knows more than I do about this stuff. It worked, the pain slowly slowly subsided. “It has something to do with the oils in your hair or something, that’s what the village people have told me.”, she said. “Ummm.. and you want me to EAT this?” I asked. She replied “It’s not going to kill you.”  (that’s good to know, I thought).

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Me, Pete Manzo, picking nettles in the Orto

“So what are we going to do with this poisonous plant?” I poked at her. “We’re going to make ravioli. We will mix the nettles in with ricotta for the filling” At this point I’m starving, so I WOULD eat a poisonous plant. “You will be okay…” she said trying to comfort me. We went back to the house and proceeded to wash them then boil them in salted water, where they wilted and looked a bit like baby spinach to me. Heather instructed me on how to make the pasta dough. Four, eggs and a whole lot of strength with a huge rolling pin. I rolled out the dough, small piece by small piece, while Heather finished up her filling. “Put a little bit in a straight line” she told me as I was sort of putting them on the dough sheet haphazardly. She showed me how to put them in a line, just the right amount, cover it with the second piece of dough and use my hand to press the ravioli together – long side first and quasi-karate-chopping in between the mounds of filling. “Don’t worry, when you cut it with the fancy rolling cutter, it seals the ravioli”. We then set them gently on a large tray covered with coarse napkin, which we dusted with semolina, allowing them to rest before their dip in the pool.

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Honing my skills in ravioli-making


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Heather with our little bundles of deliciousness


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Boiling the nettle-filled ravioli


Once I was finished, we dropped them all at the same time into the boiling water. After a few minutes, Heather took one out, tested the pasta to make sure it was cooked enough and then fished them out of the pot in small groups and put them into as pan where we had prepared melted butter and fresh sage leaves.

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Our ravioli served with fresh sage and butter


As this point, I’m sitting at the table, napkin tucked in my shirt acting as a bib, with my fork and knife ready to pounce on this little pillows of heaven. We made about 40, Heather had about 10 and well… you know what happened to the rest. You’re probably wondering what the nettles tasted like. If I had to describe it, I would say, like a cross between escarole and spinach. The were delicious, handmade with love and care with fresh ingredients, and I didn’t die. That’s a good ending to this story, right?

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