Stinging Nettles, Pasta, and Kung Fu!?
On this week’s installment of the Foraging Fairy (uhhh..) I’m running with my pasta making video debut and adding wild nettles for a robust, textural and, of course, healthy green pasta dish that can be accompanied with cheese and various other garden/ foraged treats.
Stinging nettles grow in the wild starting in early spring into the summer. (When you cook them the skin-irritating stingers dissipate so there’s no need to worry of indigestion). Although nettles aren’t as flavorful as ramps or asparagus they offer a lovely green color and texture similar to baby spinach or chard.
From a health perspective, they are quite good for you as well. They aid in asthma, anemia, and overall detoxifying of the body.
A run in with an old friend, Vincent, encouraged me to visit his shop in Pittsfield, a small city in western Massachusetts. Over our brief run-in, he told me he sold spices, dried herbs, (of which included dried nettles) various teas and an outlet where he taught kung fu. I was confused of the variety at first but then I entered and was briefly taken by Temple 33 1/3.
The shop’s owner, Vincent Carter, has studied kung fu for about 40 years and has been teaching for 26. His advanced knowledge and appreciation for the art lead to the use of various herbs and spices for health and well being tied into the art and practice of kung fu. As I pointed to unfamiliar named root extracts or blends he rattled off at least a dozen health and well being properties whilst giving me a sniff of each. The aromas were some of which I had never smelt before and was quickly salivating thinking about food concoctions. They are also, as he stated, some of the best spices and blends for culinary applications. (More to come..)
After taking pictures and propping dried nettle piles on the counter for pictures (see below) a couple of his students were around and took note and curiosity of this kid and his camera. We discussed the origins of kung fu, its true meaning, and how the general public confuses the art with a form of stealth combat as in a Jackie Chan or Ralph Macchio movie.
Kung Fu literally translates to ‘your work’ or ‘one’s skill.’ The hard work it takes to study, understand, and be able to do that work or skill well. The strengthening of the mind comes first, and then the body in pursuit to one’s path.
This combined with traditional Chinese medicine allowed healing of the mind and body with the aid of natural ingredients as herbs and spices rather than synthetic and chemical based.
People mastered their skills or trade and therefore were easily able to defend themselves by applying their strengths or skills. (Cue Bruce Lee scene) Boatmen used their long bamboo poles as tools or weapons, gardeners used their rakes, chefs used their knives. Makes sense doesn’t it?
I got a lot out of this as a chef, as a monger, and as an inspiring food journalist. Kung Fu is universal. Kung fu applies to everything, especially in the world of cheese. Lastly, Kung Fu isn’t just about becoming a stealth killer. (Although a cheese kung fu movie would be hilariously entertaining)
I hope this piece inspires many to look into a local kung fu culture, the health properties of herbs and spices, or just a sense of one’s skill, discipline, and mastery of their career to eventually be able to brag.. “I know Kung Fu.”
Here’s a recipe for nettle pasta with some pictures at the end.:
-10 ounces all-purpose flour, 2 heaping cups
-4 ounces blanched nettles or spinach, a little less than a cup, excess water squeezed and finely chopped.
-4 ounces whole egg (about 2 large eggs)
-Pinch of salt
- Olive oil
-A chunk of your favorite grating cheese
Pour flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs and chopped nettles.
With a small fork gradually incorporate the flour into the egg/ nettle mixture.
Using your hands, mix and toss the flour bits into a uniform shaggy mass. Add the water and press into dough.
When the dough feels slightly tacky, transfer to a lightly-floured counter top and knead the dough for 5 minutes. (Some flour bits may remain)
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out dough with pasta machine par manufacturers instructions or use a rolling pin to roll to thin sheets. Have a small bowl of flour handy to dust the pasta as you go to prevent sticking and tearing.