Nettle, Walnut and ricotta gnocchi with a sage butter sauce.

Words and recipe from Sarah Hemsley, 'A slow gathering':

'Nettles could be considered as the bristly, slightly inhospitable cousin to spinach, they are so similar in taste and methods of cooking. Suited to simple rustic recipes, they pair well with everyday ingredients such as eggs, butter and cheese. Gnocchi is a recipe that is agreeable to tweaking, to adding a bit of this and a bit of that and so effortlessly welcomes the addition of chopped nettle. A comforting dish that is just at home on a cold winter's night as it is on a balmy summer's eve. Meltingly soft, pillowy dumplings that soak up the unctuous buttery sauce and which require very little accompaniment other than a simple green salad and a chunk of bread to mop up the very last garlic infused drizzle.

I grab a basket, put on my wellies and head outside. It isn’t long before I find a crop of new growth beneath a large tree, the sun streams through the branches and droplets of rain, from a recent shower, catch the flickering light and glisten on the tell tale barbed leaves. Wearing protective washing up gloves and using sharp scissors I cautiously snip way. There is a slowness required when foraging for nettles, a considered undertaking. I treat the task with the respectful reverence it deserves and with a calm determined concentration and steady hand!'

Preparation - Foraging time + 1 hour prep + 1⁄2 hour dough rest Cook Time - 5-10 minutes

Serves - 4 Ingredients

For the gnocchi

Approximately 60 nettle tops ( roughly 4 or 5 small leaves to a top ) 250g floury potatoes like King Edward
100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
25g semolina

A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g finely chopped walnuts, plus extra for topping 1 tbsp ricotta
20g grated Parmesan
Zest of 1⁄2 lemon

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the sauce

200g butter
8-10 sage leaves
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced Freshly ground black pepper to taste Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

Top with grated parmesan cheese and chopped walnuts ( ​optional​ )

Method

Prepare the nettles with care. Wearing washing up gloves, wash thoroughly in a sink full of warm tap water. Snip the tough stalks away and place into a pan of salted boiling water for 2 minutes, this will remove the sting.
Drain through a sieve, rinsing with cold water. Tip out onto a clean, dry towel. Wrap the nettle leaves in the towel and ring out the excess water, alternatively, use a salad spinner. Pat dry and finely chop with a mezzaluna or in a food processor.

Meanwhile peel and chop the potatoes into cubes and add to a pan of salted boiling water and boil for 15 - 20 minutes until soft. Drain and add to a large bowl, allow to cool slightly before mashing.

Add the flour, semolina, walnuts, parmesan, lemon zest, nettles, nutmeg and pepper to the mashed potato.
In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta with the beaten egg and slowly add to the mashed potato mixture and mix together until a dough is formed, add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Rest the dough in the fridge for half an hour until it firms up a little, which will make it easier to roll out.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Divide the dough into two halves. Roll both halves out into a thin sausage shape then slice into small pieces, roll into balls to make the gnocchi. For greater accuracy and consistency, weigh each piece, about 10-14 g makes a good size gnocchi!

Use a ridged butter pat or the back of a fork to make grooves on the gnocchi.

In a small pan over a very low heat, melt the butter. Add the sage, garlic and lemon juice and heat for a few minutes until the butter has all melted and starts to turn a rich amber colour.

Meanwhile add the gnocchi to a pan of boiling salted water. It should only take about 5 minutes, when the gnocchi has risen to the surface of the water then remove with a slotted spoon to a warm plate. Spoon the sage butter over the gnocchi and grate over parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts and serve with a seasonal green salad.

Gnocchi freezes really well. Open freeze the uncooked gnocchi on a tray then when frozen place into a freezer bag. Cook from frozen.