Nettles aren't called stinging nettles for nothing, but, when handled with care, they don’t pose a problem. The initial process of making the nettle puree is worth the effort as the delicate flavour teams perfectly with pecorino and crisp pork cheek.
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 160 g guanciale (see Note)
- 120 g aged pecorino romano (see Note), freshly grated
- 50 g unsalted butter, diced
- salt and black pepper
- 500 g nettles (see Note)
- 200 ml vermentino (see Note)
- pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, bruised
- 6 black peppercorns
- salt flakes, to taste
- 150 ml warm water, approximately
- 360 g semolina flour
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 50 ml nettle puree, from above
- semolina flour, extra, for kneading
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 1 hour
The following recipe has been tested and edited by SBS Food and may differ slightly from the podcast.
To make the nettle puree, wearing rubber gloves, pick the leaves from the nettles (discard the stems). Combine the wine, chilli, garlic, peppercorns, salt and 1 litre (4 cups) of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add nettle leaves and cook for 3 minutes, drain well (reserve water).
Place nettles in food processor and blend to make a smooth paste, adding 1 tablespoon of the reserved cooking water if necessary. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Measure 50 ml (2½ tablespoons) of the puree and set aside (the rest can be frozen for later use).
To make the pasta dough, sift the flour and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Combine the nettle puree with 50 ml water and add to the flour. Mix on low speed for 3–4 minutes until absorbed. Start adding the remaining water, a little at a time, and continue to mix until you have a firm dough, about 4 minutes.
Tip the dough onto a clean, lightly floured workbench and knead with the heels of your hands for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour.
Cut dough into 4 pieces and flatten one piece slightly, wrapping remaining pieces in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Pass the flattened piece of dough through a pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold the pasta in half and pass through the rollers 2 more times, folding in half with each pass. Reduce the setting on the machine 1 notch and pass the dough through twice, dusting lightly with flour if it starts to stick. Continue to pass the pasta through the rollers reducing the setting each time, dusting with flour, until you have a sheet about 120 cm long. Repeat with the remaining dough. Pass the pasta sheets through the fettuccine attachment on the pasta machine or cut into ½ cm-wide ribbons. Toss with a little flour and set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Meanwhile place a large frying pan over medium heat, add oil and guanciale and cook for 7–8 minutes until crisp. Reduce the heat to low.
Gently shake pasta to loosen it a little, then drop into the boiling water and boil for about 1 minute from the time the water returns to the boil, or until tender.
Remove the frying pan from heat and using tongs or a spaghetti spoon, lift the cooked pasta from the boiling water into the frying pan. Toss pasta for a minute or two to coat well with guanciale and rendered fat. Grind in plenty of pepper and toss again, then mix in three-quarters of the pecorino, followed by the butter. Add about 60 ml (¼ cup) of the pasta cooking water and toss thoroughly to give a creamy consistency, adding a little more water if pasta seems dry.
Serve in pasta bowls, topped with the remaining pecorino and a good grind of pepper.
• Guanciale is cured pig’s cheek and is available at specialty butchers.
• Pecorino romano is a hard, sheep’s milk cheese similar in taste to paremsan. Pecorino is available from specialty delicatessens.
• Vermentino is an Italian white wine. Substitute with any other dry white wine.
• Nettles can be purchased through specialty green grocers from November through to January/February.
Photography by Alan Benson