Ingredients for 5 people:
- For the fresh pasta:200 g fresh nettles300 g plain flour3 large eggs salt
- For the sauce:5 zucchini15/20 zucchini flowers2 ripe tomatoes1 onion6 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil salt and pepper
This is a seasonal dish, for which you need to arm yourself with patience and… rubber gloves, when you set out to forage for its main ingredient – stinging nettles. The young, fresh, tender shoots are ideal for cooking (and also for medicinal purposes, because their healing power is at its highest). The best time to pick them is in spring, after it has rained (but also autumn, when they sprout again after being cut back). It takes a while to harvest the young shoots, clean them and wash them; the leaves are small and light, and to reach 200 g will require quite a bit of work, but it’ll be worth it!
First make the pasta. Pull off the nettle leaves and wash them carefully several times. Blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, strain them, let them cool down in a colander or sieve and then squeeze out as much water as possible. Pile the flour up and create a well in the centre, break the eggs into it, add some salt and crumble in the nettles. Start mixing with your fingertips in the centre and then, gradually, work with your whole hand to incorporate all the flour. Knead carefully and at length until you obtain a smooth, homogeneous ball of dough. The blanched nettles will probably still release some water, which may make the dough sticky; in this case, gradually add a little more flour until it no longer sticks to your hands. Cover the dough with a tea towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Then roll it out into a sheet of pasta, not too thin, fold it over several times and use a sharp knife to cut it into medium-width tagliatelle. They can be cooked immediately, or you can prepare them a day or 2 in advance and let them dry on a tray, spaced out and sprinkled with flour so they don’t stick together.
Now it’s time to prepare the sauce. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and remove the seeds (in this way they’ll release less liquid and give the finished dish a nice colour and a slightly sharp taste). Take the zucchini flowers, remove the pistils and wash them carefully without damaging them. Leave some whole (they’ll be firmer to the bite and add a nice touch to the dish as well) and rip the others into 2 or 3 pieces by hand. In the meanwhile put the water on to boil for the pasta, but only add the salt when it begins to boil and you put the tagliatelle in. In a large frying pan sauté the chopped onion with the olive oil; add the sliced zucchini and the pieces of tomato. After 10-15 minutes add the flowers and season with salt and pepper. The sauce is ready when the pieces of zucchini are just firm to the bite. It’s important to not let it get too dry and, if necessary, add a little of the pasta cooking water.
Drop the tagliatelle into the boiling, salted water, keeping an eye on them because they’ll cook in just a few minutes. Use a wooden spoon to delicately spread them out in the water and stir slowly once, tasting so you’re ready to strain the pasta at the right moment, when it’s still very “al dente”, and quickly transfer it to the pan to finish cooking with the sauce. Mix everything together well, then serve and… buon appetito!