When Adam was in Italy, he frequently ate a pasta dish that he fell in love with: tiny, tender pillows of ricotta gnocchi the size of chiclets or your pinkie fingernail, dyed a verdant green hue from the stinging nettles that were gently worked into the dough. We tried to recreate the dish when he got home, using nettles and ricotta from the market, and adding diminutive cubes of boiled potatoes and white asparagus into the final plating. We weren’t happy with the shade of green — we didn’t want the pasta to be flecked so much as doused in the color green — and any advice on making vividly colored pasta would be super welcome. But man, was it tasty.
No trip to San Diego is complete without an extensive, wallet-busting visit to Chino’s farm stand, where they grow and sell some of the most mouthwatering and exotic vegetables I’ve ever seen in the United States (their strawberries, which sadly weren’t in season, are purported to be the best in all of California). We bought six huge bags of produce, some that I’ve never even had — huge stalks of cardoon, a bag of stinging nettles, some obscure mustard greens, Japanese yams, and more — as well as some favorites that I love, including thick purple carrots, unblemished jerusalem artichokes, fresh bay leaves, baby brussel sprouts, tiny chioggia beets, dinosaur kale, tender baby garlic, and treviso radicchio. It is one of the most unbelievable farm stands in the country. When we didn’t know what to do with the cardoon, one of the ladies at Chino’s whipped out a vegetable cookbook and let us read recipes for inspiration. I mean, that’s the best. The best!
We’ve been happily playing around with our shopping bounty ever since Thursday’s monster shopping trip, and one of our favorite dishes has been a stinging nettle pesto, which we slathered thickly onto warm bread and topped with salty salami. Because the stinging nettles are blanched for a few minutes before pureed, this pesto retains its glorious kelly green hue long after it’s made (most raw pestos, like basil or arugula, oxidize if exposed to the air and need to be packed with olive oil). After relaxing the nettles in hot water, I blended them (which smelled incredibly like steamed spinach) with some flat leaf parsley, toasted pine nuts, the juice of one lemon, some shredding parmigiano reggiano, and a drizzle of olive oil.
And of course, a trip to southern California is never complete without a hefty swordfish steak — one food that I really miss out on in the Northeast. Thrown on the grill briefly for optimal char and topped with a few turns of black pepper and generous amounts of squeezed lemon wedges, it’s one meal that really reminds me of home.
Happy happy holidays!