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Orecchiette with Butter-Braised Nettles (Orecchiette con le Ortiche)

Nettles are now available at many farmers’ markets come spring, so you can prepare this dish, which hails from the Italian countryside, in your own kitchen. They really do sting, so handle nettles with gloves. A quick dip in boiling water takes the sting out, though, and they are worth that little bit of trouble.

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. stinging nettles  
  • Fine sea salt, to taste, plus 1 tsp. 
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter 
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
  • 1 small fresh hot chili, minced, or a generous pinch of red pepper flakes 
  • 1 lb. orecchiette or other short, sturdy pasta 
  • 3/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese 

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Wearing gloves to prevent stinging, cut the tough stems off the nettles and rinse well. Using the gloves or tongs, place the nettles in the boiling water and blanch until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and let cool, then chop coarsely. Fill the pot with fresh water, salt generously and bring to a boil.

While the water is heating, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the garlic and chili and stir to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the nettles and the 1 tsp. salt. Using tongs, toss the greens to coat well. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the pan with the greens and toss well to combine. Add a splash or two of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pasta and toss again. Divide among 4 shallow bowls, sprinkle the pasta with the remaining cheese and serve immediately. Serves 4.