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Nettle Ravioli with Butter and Sage (Ravioli all'Ortica con Burro e Salvia)

Pasta can be stuffed with almost any combination of vegetables, cheeses, meats and seasonings, but the most common filling in Tuscany is a mixture of soft ricotta cheese and finely chopped cooked greens. In the lush hills of the Casentino, north of Arezzo, ravioli are filled with the leaves of stinging nettles, a weed that grows wild throughout Tuscany, or more commonly with spinach or Swiss chard. Nettles are an extremely nutritious green with a faint tangy flavor. The best time to collect nettles is during spring and summer. Choose the smaller, tender upper leaves of the plant, being careful to wear gloves when handling them.

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 1 lb. nettles, spinach or Swiss chard, stems or
      ribs removed
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. fresh pasta sheets (see related recipe at
      right)
  • 2 Tbs. coarse salt

For the sauce:

  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 24 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Directions:

To make the filling, place the greens in a saucepan with the rinsing water clinging to the leaves, cover and cook until tender, 4 to 8 minutes. Check from time to time and add a bit of water if needed to prevent scorching. Drain and rinse under cold running water to cool completely. Form the greens into a ball and squeeze forcefully to remove as much water as possible. Finely chop the greens, then squeeze again to force out any additional water.

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden, about 1 minute. Add the cooked greens and sauté for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool and place in a bowl.

Add the cheeses, egg yolk, salt and pepper and stir with a wooden spoon to form a smooth paste. If possible, transfer the filling to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. Using a straight-edged pastry wheel, cut the pasta sheets into long strips 3 inches wide. Using the pastry bag or a spoon, dot the center of the length of 1 strip with 1 1/2-tsp. dollops of the filling, spacing the dollops 1 1/2 inches apart and stopping within 1 inch of the ends of the strip. Brush a little water around each dollop of filling, then gently fold the strip over to enclose the mounds of filling. Using your hands, press the pasta sheets together around the mounds of filling, forcing out any air. Using a fluted pastry wheel, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares, leaving the folded edge uncut. Transfer the ravioli to the prepared baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining pasta strips and filling.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the coarse salt. Add the ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the sage leaves, reduce the heat to low and continue heating the butter.

When the ravioli are ready, pour the butter and sage leaves into a warmed serving bowl. Drain the ravioli, add to the bowl along with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and toss gently. Sprinkle the pecans over the ravioli and serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Tuscany, by Lori De Mori (Time-Life Books, 2001).