Sting Like a Nettle
Chef Benjamin Balesteri proves your pasta is only as fresh as your produce.
FANS OF TRUE Italian food — cooking that showcases ingredients fresh from the garden or farm — are advised to make a reservation at Poggio, Sausalito’s very own trattoria, where 33-year-old Monterey native Benjamin Balesteri has helmed the kitchen for the past year after graduating from his role as sous chef. Balesteri joined the Poggio family several years ago when a culinary journey to Italy cemented his love of cucina and seasonal offerings. In 2010, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a sous chef at Lincoln. Two years later, he was back at Poggio — and how could he stay away? The restaurant features the convivial atmosphere often associated with Italian cooking, as well as a restaurant-owned garden ideal for harvesting the organic herbs and vegetables California is known for. The following recipe tells how to make fresh stinging-nettle pasta, a Balesteri personal favorite. “From time to time we’ll have a growth of wild stinging nettles in our garden,” he says. “I love how they add the slightest hint of spice to this pasta, which I brighten with fava beans and basil from the garden — if the deer don’t get to them first.” poggiotrattoria.com
Stinging Nettle Pasta
- 1/2 pound stinging nettles
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup semolina flour
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 4 cups diced hen-of-the-woods mushrooms
- 1 cup cooked baby artichokes
- 1 cup blanched peeled fava beans
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (for finishing)
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (for finishing)
- Remove the leaves from the nettle plants and discard the stems. Rinse the leaves and place them in a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds.
- Remove from pot and immediately rinse in cold water. Squeeze the water out of the leaves.
- In a food processor, puree the nettle leaves, olive oil and one egg until smooth; you should end up with about 3/4 cup of puree.
- Mix the semolina and flour and shape into a mound on a clean countertop. Make a well in the center. Crack the second egg into the well, then add the nettle puree.
- With a fork, mix the egg and nettles into the flour from the inside out, pushing in the outer edges with your hand as you mix. As soon as the dough is not too sticky to handle, knead it with your hands until the flour is integrated and you can gather it into a ball. Knead it for an additional 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
- Cut the ball into four pieces. If using a pasta machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make a thin sheet. If using a rolling pin, roll the dough as thinly as you can, sprinkling with flour so it doesn’t stick.
- Once you have a nice thin sheet of pasta, either cut it while flat with a knife or roll up the pasta sheet like a cigar and cut across into ¼-inch-thick noodles. Unravel pasta strands and sprinkle with flour. Repeat with remaining three balls of dough.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or wok on medium high.
- Cook the pasta in the boiling water only until al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add butter and mushrooms to hot skillet, tossing a few times until a caramelized golden brown. Add artichokes, fava beans and strained pasta. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil.
- Serve hot and garnish with parmesan, pine nuts and basil