Each year I eagerly await the first greens of spring to emerge from the forest floor so I can be among the first to pick the best that nature has to offer and make delicious morsels from it. For one of my favorite specialties, I use a hardy weed and an onion shoot found in most deciduous climates: nettle and wild garlic. The Italian names for these two are so much more romantic: ortica & aglio dell'orso...and they truly are a match made in heaven.
Last year I made these wonderful nettle and wild garlic ravioli and it was a big hit in our household. I will repeat them in about two weeks when the first shoots appear. Spring is late here in the Black Forest and I can't wait to start gardening.
Foraging is the most wonderful way of getting food. In Italy it's a fine art, and in spring you'll find women all over the country in the fields looking for special vegetables. Seeing greens is something that is passed from generation to generation. In Piedmont, the green is mainly used for the Easter frittata, a symphony of wild sorrel, wild spinach, lamb's lettuce, dandelion and many other herbs, which is mixed with eggs and parmesan and baked.
I start picking the nettles (with gloves, please!) and wild garlic. I blanch the nettle leaves (not the ramps) and the histamine that is so irritating goes away. Then I chop both finely and toss them briefly in a hot pan with olive oil and a garlic. After they've cooled, I toss them in with salt, pepper, and just enough ricotta to hold them together.
I make my pasta exactly as my friend Letizia Mattiacci describes it in her cookbook "Kitchen with a View" which, in case you don't already have it, is an Italian cookery bible. Her latest book, Festa Italiana, pays homage to Italian festivals and their special dishes - and I've made some of the recipes and they're all delicious!
I roll out the pasta very thin by hand with the large roller in the photo on the right. I also use a pasta machine, but there's something very satisfying about rolling out the pasta dough by hand and being able to see through it.
Then I spread the pasta with the ravioli filling, close it and cut it.
A lot of semolina flour on the marble prevents the noodles from sticking.
Fresh ravioli are cooked in seconds. A minute in boiling water and they'll bubble to the surface. I made them last year with a light sauce of roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic blossom. It was a feast!
I serve these fantastic ravioli with a wonderful dolcetto wine.