Nettle Risotto

Nettle Risotto

I hadn’t had nettle risotto for years, since my mum’s alpine neighbour Rosetta (in Valle d’Aosta, in northern Italy) had made it for us when I was a teenager, but I always remembered it as something delicious.

Since we’ve been in Covid-19 lockdown but are allowed out for one bit of daily exercise, I’ve been walking along many fields lined with nettles. I suggested nettle risotto to my hubby and youngest daughter on a number of occasions, but they were a bit put off by…well, the fact it’s nettles!

I decided to make some anyway, just for me… turns out our daughter loved it and hubby didn’t mind it, either! Ha! I feel vindicated! I also had a go at making nettle fritters (recipe here). Also delicious!

Important when making nettle risotto:

Nettles will give you a nasty rash (urticaria) if you touch them, so when picking them and handling them prior to cooking, wear long sleeves, long trousers, socks & shoes that cover your feet completely. Also wear gloves! Once the nettles are cooked, they no longer sting.

Nettle risotto ingredients (for 2-3 people):

Quantities are approximate

  • A small carrier bag full of nettles – quantity / volume includes the bits of stalks at the picking stage (I picked the top 2-3 leaf layers off each nettle plant by cutting the stem with scissors below the 2nd or 3rd layer of leaves, taking care to get plants whose leaves were in good condition and not too huge…also I went into the nettles to avoid getting the ones right on the edge of the path)
  • 2 generous knobs of butter
  • 1 onion
  • Approx. 4 small handfuls of risotto rice (Carnaroli is hailed as an ideal risotto rice and is indeed lovely, but I generally use Arborio, which is a bit less expensive and still delicious and creamy)
  • 500ml stock (either vegetable if you want to make this recipe vegetarian, or chicken stock, which I often use for a richer flavour)
  • Freshly grated parmesan, to taste
Nettle Risotto
Nettle risotto, served with freshly-grated parmesan

How to make the nettle risotto

Wash the nettles (carefully – wear gloves!) and remove the leaves from the stalks, keeping only the leaves.

In a sauté pan or stockpot (ideally non-stick, but it’s not essential, it just makes life easier), melt the butter and add the whole nettle leaves. Leave them to wilt and gently cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onion.

Remove the nettles from the pan and place them on a chopping board. Add some butter to the pan and add the onions, softening them on a low heat until they are translucent. Keep the heat low as you don’t want them to brown.

While the onions are softening, roughly chop the cooked nettles. They are safe to touch now.

Add the chopped nettles to the onions, stir, then add the risotto rice. Stir, then leave for 2-3 minutes until the rice grains have begun to become a little translucent, stirring frequently.

Add a little of the stock – enough to cover the rice but not so much you’re drowning it. Stir, then leave it cooking on a low heat (just a very gentle simmer), stirring as little as possible so you don’t break the rice grains, until most of the stock has absorbed. Add a little more stock and keep repeating this until the rice grains are almost completely cooked (al dente – still a little bit of hardness at the centre) and the rice is still a bit ‘wetter’ than you’d like your eating consistency to be for the risotto. It should take about 10-15 minutes to get to this stage.

At this point, turn off the heat, put a lid over your pan and leave it for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, your rice should be perfectly cooked, still slightly al dente but not hard, and beautifully moist (but not wet like a soup!).

Stir in a bit of grated parmesan, then serve, and add freshly-grated parmesan (to taste) to each individual portion.

Nettle Risotto – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

Rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes | Pomodori ripieni al riso con patate

This recipe for rice-stuffed tomatoes was originally my Nonna Wanda’s recipe, with the addition of potatoes made by my Zia Emilia to make it more authentically Roman.

Here is a photo of the recipe as cooked by my Zia Emilia in Rome on my last visit, in May 2017:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes made by zia Emilia | pomodori ripieni di riso con le patate, fatti da zia Emilia

And here is my latest rendition of this delicious dish:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

The quantities and timings etc in this recipe are, as many of the recipes passed down from generation to generation in our family, vague and open to interpretation / personal touch, but I’ve tried to be a bit more precise so you can follow it, too 🙂

Ingredients (for 3-6 people, depending on whether it is a starter, main course, or side dish): 

  • 6 large beef tomatoes
  • Arborio rice (approximately 2 small fistfuls per tomato)
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley (a good handful)
  • Fresh basil (a good handful)
  • Half a medium onion
  • Freshly-grated parmesan cheese (a couple of handfuls)
  • Potatoes (5-6 medium sized ones) – watch this video for the best way to cut potatoes the Italian way
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Method

Here is the hand-written recipe written down by my Zia Emilia as dictated by her mum, my Nonna Wanda, when Zia Emilia was preparing to get married and leave home.  You can see the addition of the potatoes on page 2:

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes - hand-written recipe pg1

rice-stuffed tomatoes with potatoes - hand-written recipe pg2

Start by cutting the potatoes.  Ideally, do these the Italian way (watch video) – this allows them to cook slightly unevenly, giving you lovely crispy edges and soft centres.

Tip: Cutting potatoes this way and roasting them with rosemary and olive oil is a delicious Italian way to do roast potatoes!

Place these into an oven dish and set aside for now.

Then cut the tops off the tomatoes (think little ‘hats’).  Slice two thin strips off the ‘discarded’ tomato tops and set aside (you’ll use these later for decoration, to top your stuffed tomatoes), and chop up the remaining ‘discarded’ tops into small pieces.  Add these small pieces to the potatoes.  Season the potatoes and tomato pieces with a generous sprinkling of sea salt, add a generous glug of olive oil, toss, and place in a pre-heated oven (fan-assisted 180­°C) for 25 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the rice: 

Place the rice in cold water, add a generous sprinkling of sea salt, and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or so (check this as not all rice cooks at the same rate – you want to make sure the rice is still a little bit uncooked at the end of this stage).

While the rice is cooking, finely chop the half onion and soften it in a pan with a generous amount of olive oil, over a low heat (let the onion soften slowly, making sure it does not go brown). Finely chop the parsley and basil, and add these to the onion just as the rice is nearly ready at the not quite cooked stage. Make sure you don’t fry the herbs for too long.

Drain the rice, leaving it quite wet, and saving the cooking water.  Add the rice to the pan with the olive oil, onion and herbs and stir, letting the rice continue to cook like a risotto.  You may need to add some of the cooking water to allow it to remain moist and cook until it is cooked, but still ‘al dente’. Make sure you don’t over-stir as this breaks up the rice grains.

Take it off the heat once it’s cooked and stir in about 2/3rds of the parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

Return to the tomatoes you previously removed the tops from. Carefully hollow these out with a spoon (the insides with the seeds are my favourite part of the tomato – I always used to eagerly await this stage when my Nonna made stuffed tomatoes, and still do when my Zia does them, so I could eat them, seasoned with a bit of salt).

Lightly season the insides of the hollow tomatoes with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Once the potatoes have had about 25 minutes in the oven, take the oven dish out and give them a bit of a stir. Turn the oven down to 150°C (fan).

Take each hollow tomato and fill it as high as you can with the cooked rice mixture. Make a space amongst the potatoes and place the tomato in that space.  Repeat with each tomato, then sprinkle some parmesan onto each stuffed tomato and, finally, top each one with two strips of the tomato ‘lids’ you cut out earlier.

Place the dish back into the oven and bake until the tomatoes are very soft and the rice has a crispy parmesan topping.  The potatoes should be cooked and golden, not overly brown.  This takes approximately 40-45 minutes.

Serve on their own, as a side-dish, or as a starter.  These are also delicious once they’ve cooled down a little to luke-warm.

Enjoy!

Gloriously simple, gloriously good!

 

 

 

 

Linguine Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe pasta

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper) is a simple, yet delicious way to serve pasta.  It is a typical dish from Rome, and can be served with spaghetti, linguine, or even short pasta such as rigatoni.

On this occasion, I made Linguine Cacio e Pepe.

Linguine Cacio e Pepe

Ingredients – Linguine Cacio e Pepe for 4 people

  • 500g Linguine
  • 200g Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper
  • Drop of oil and fistful of salt for the pasta cooking water

Method

Put a large pan with water, a drop of oil and a fistful of salt on the hob and bring to the boil.  I usually advocate using the largest possible stockpot style pan for pasta cooking, but this recipe works best if you have very starchy water, so use a slightly smaller (but still ample) pan / less water than you usually would for pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta, stir after a minute or so, and occasionally during cooking, to ensure it doesn’t stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, finely grate the pecorino cheese.  The key to this recipe is the cheese.  Make sure you use a good quality pecorino romano and that you grate it as finely as you can – this will enable you to create the creamy sauce.  If the cheese is too coarsely grated, it won’t go creamy and will clump instead.

Grind plenty of black pepper into the pecorino.  How much you use, will depend on taste, but you are ideally aiming for a speckled look to the cheese, and for a good peppery kick to the sauce.

Once the pasta is nearly cooked (about a minute before it’s done), take a bit of water out of the pan with a ladle and stir it into the cheese with a fork.  Add a bit at a time (half a ladle or less) and stir each time, until you achieve the desired creamy consistency.

Cacio e pepe - the creamy 'sauce' consistency

This is what you are aiming for with the pecorino, pepper and cooking water.

Once the pasta is cooked, nicely ‘al dente’, drain it and immediately stir it through the cheese.

Serve onto pasta bowls and, if you wish, add a bit more freshly-ground black pepper.

Cacio e pepe pasta.  Gloriously Simple.  Gloriously Good!