Pasta with Nettles and Cream Sauce (Mmm…Canada)

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recipe: nettles on fresh pasta with cream sauce, garnished with fresh herbs


Jasmine (Confessions of a Cardamom Addict) has asked us “share which savoury dishes or drinks taste like Canada” to us.

Augh!!! “…taste like Canada”? What is there about our food that distinguishes as Canadian? What is it about me that distinguishes me as Canadian?

Yikes! My first thought when I saw the event announcement was: “Too hard!! Too hard!!!” I already wiggled and waffled about this a few years ago for Jennifer’s (Domestic Goddess) Taste Canada event!

(Okay. That’s enough whining and complaining out loud (although… that’s very Canadian of me to do so… both the whining and the self-imposed cease and desist order ;-)). Let me get back on track …let’s see now; wild rice? stewed rhubarb? chives? asparagus? mint?)

Tastes like Canada, eh? Hmmm. Well, what can I say about this… I grew up in Alberta in an Anglo-Saxon household where the primary food seasonings for savoury dishes were salt and pepper (pre-ground). In the summer we snipped chives and mint from the garden (never used mint for savoury dishes in those days though). Nutmeg emerged to season squash and turnip (I learned years later that we were eating rutabaga; I didn’t knowingly taste turnip until this year and I’m not sure that I ever really tasted squash in those days, pushing my teaspoon portion of it around on my plate, watching it congeal until I was banished to the kitchen to stare pathetically at the plate and finally, with pinched face, cough it down, while gulping milk to hide the horror).

Vegetables were generally turnip, carrots, green beans, peas (sometimes canned!!), cauliflower and beets. And for special occasions: parsnips, sweet potatoes, mushroooms, Brussels sprouts and asparagus. And horseradish for my parents. (The special occasion ones were particularly loathed by me when I was little; WHAT an unadventurous and picky eater I was!! How did my parents stand it?!).

I still remember the dusty box holding one head of garlic (minus a clove or two) that was housed on a top shelf. The garlic was for the dinner parties that my parents threw. The dinner parties we were not invited to. The dinner parties we didn’t want to be invited to. They were eating weird things… like broccoli, spinach and garlic.

And the starch? Potatoes or long grain white rice (NOT minute rice). Bread (sandwich-style made by my mom) was for breakfast and lunch. Pasta? Mom made the best macaroni and cheese from scratch but it was always a lunch item. For years, I thought spaghetti was supposed to come in a tin….

Fish? Frozen cod filets or breaded fish sticks, canned tuna or shrimp. Every Sunday we had roast beef or chicken, sometimes ham.

Those were the early years. Happily, when I was in my teens, our family saw the light. And started branching out. Even I saw the light. And started branching out. Real pasta. Fresh garlic. Why, we even had curry… (not the kind of curry your mom makes, Jasmine; more like the kind of curry that the Milk Calendar suggests…)

When I moved to Ontario, I was introduced to a whole new set of dishes: Indian, Chinese, Viet Namese, Korean, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Jamaican, Brazilian… in short, the cuisine and spices of the whole world.

Which is why it’s impossible now to say what dishes taste like Canada to me. Unless it’s that we have the nerve to combine different cultures’ spice mixtures and flavours to reflect our melting pot existence. (For instance, I invariably throw a little garam masala into my “Mexican” pot beans and we use lemon verbena instead of lemon grass in our “Thai” curries.)

(Stop for a moment to gasp for air. Okay, I’m fine now. Excuse me while I drone on a little more… hope you’re still with me.)

pasta stuffed with nettles Initially, when Jasmine made the announcement, I thought about one of my favourite potato salads as a child: new potatoes, Miracle Whip salad dressing (I know. Why would anyone choose Miracle Whip over mayonnaise?) salt, pepper and chives. Did we sometimes sprinkle on paprika for colour too? I LOVED that potato salad! I LOVED going out to the garden to cut the chives. I LOVED that it was with scissors.

(click on image to see larger view and more photos)

Of course, those of you who are gluttons for punishment and are still reading, are thinking now that my “Mmm…Canada” dish will feature chives. Ha. Clearly you don’t know me.

The first day that we went to our newly established weekly farmers’ market, we were very excited to see nettles. The woman at the Sartoria stall (at least I think it was Sartoria that was selling nettles) said she had picked them the day before on Toronto Island where she lives. I believe she almost squealed with delight that we knew they were nettles AND were planning on buying some. I believe that we actually squealed with delight that we could buy nettles. We were lucky because apparently, the nettles on the island were beginning to flower, which meant that by the next week, they would probably be too bitter to eat.

Here’s why we were excited about the nettles: some years ago, when on a walking holiday in Italy, we were served the most wonderful ravioli stuffed with nettles. Since then, I’ve toyed off and on with planting nettles but have never gone any further than that (frankly, having been stung by once nettles – the same day that we ate nettles, in fact – I’m a little afraid of having them in the garden…).

nettles It seems that nettles will grow just about anywhere too.

excerpt from Plants for a Future: Urtica dioca:

Urtica dioica – L. Stinging Nettle […] prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.


Woodland Garden; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Meadow; Hedgerow;

And so, we brought our nettles home. Carefully. And here’s what we did with them:

Pasta with Nettles and Cream Sauce

correction: The total amount of flour should work out to 1 cup for every egg

  • ½ c semolina flour
  • correction: 2 Tbsp ¼ c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • correction: 2 Tbsp ¼ c whole wheat flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
  • 1 large egg


  • nettles
  • good shot olive oil
  • onions, minced
  • seasalt and pepper, to taste
  • grated Ilha branca (or any hard cheese)
  • finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

cream sauce

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 c skim milk
  • 1 tsp chicken stock powder (or seasalt)
  • splash of 10% cream
  • pepper, to taste

for assembly

  • good shot butter
  • fresh herbs to garnish


  1. pasta Mix flours together. Stir egg in with a fork. Knead with hands to form a ball. Cover tightly with plastic and allow to sit on counter for a couple of hours.
  2. Put dough through handcrank pasta maker. Leave as sheets and hang to dry a little. Cut into squares and lay loosely on a tray. Sprinkle a little flour over top to keep it from sticking to itself.
  3. filling Rinse nettles. Caution: When nettles are uncooked, their tiny barbs on the leaves DO sting. Use tongs of gloves to transfer them from place to place! Put the nettles in a small amount of boiling water for about a minute, turn them a couple of times in the water to ensure that all the leaves have been blanched. Drain and set aside in a colander.
  4. Sauté onions in olive oil.
  5. Add nettles to the onions and sauté until the nettles look done. Season with chicken stock powder (or seasalt) and pepper. Set aside until it is time to cook the pasta.
  6. Melt the butter in another frying pan. Continue heating until it turns light brown. Watch carefully to prevent burning!! When the butter is dark gold, remove from the heat, and set aside til it is time to cook the pasta.
  7. cream sauce (béchamel) Finely chop the onion. Pour milk (we use skim milk powder and water) into a small pot. Add a quarter of onion. Heat the milk just until it is smiling. Remove from heat and allow to steep for about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  8. Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add the rest of the onion to the oil. Sauté onions til soft and just beginning to turn golden.
  9. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon to get rid of lumps.
  10. Add milk and chicken stock powder (or seasalt); cook til sauce is the right thickness. (This can be done a few hours before serving.) Cover. Set aside till it is time to cook the pasta.
  11. cook the pasta In a large pot, boil well-salted water. Add pasta and cook until just tender (very short time).
  12. As the water is coming to a boil, warm up the pans with the nettles, brown butter and cream sauce. Add a splash of 10% cream to the cream sauce and stir to heat through; grind in some pepper.
  13. Gently drop pasta into the boiling water and cook until just tender (very short time).
  14. Drain the pasta squares and toss in the brown butter. Lay a square of pasta on each serving plate. Spoon some of the nettle mixture into the center of each square of pasta. Add a little grated cheese (we used Ilha branca) any hard cheese would work – just bear in mind that you don’t want to overpower the delicate flavour of the nettles. Place another pasta square on top. Spoon on more nettle mixture. Top with pasta square. Pour cream sauce. Scatter grated parmesan overtop and garnish with fresh herbs (we used savoury, parsley and/or thyme).

Serve immediately as an appetizer, or as accompaniment with a grilled chop and green vegetable.

pasta stuffed with nettles The only thing I’d change would be to leave a little of the nettles to scatter overtop of the cream sauce. It would be aesthetically more pleasing, don’t you think?

And the taste of the nettle stuffing? It was like a cross between spinach and really good black tea. Not really wild tasting at all. And delicious. Absolutely delicious.

In fact, the whole dinner was absolutely delicious.

So, there it is. A dinner that tasted particularly Canadian to me: pasta made with flour that was most probably made from Canadian wheat and local eggs; pork chops from somewhere in Ontario rubbed with spices from anywhere else but Canada; herbs from our garden; nettles from Toronto Island; onions from somewhere in Ontario; cheese – imported from Portugal and Italy; green beans – imported from Texas (I think). Washed down with imported wine – Chilean “Cono Sur” cabernet sauvignon merlot.

Because that’s really the Canadian thing to do; buy imported just-about-everything almost all year round… :lalala:

(Stay tuned for ranting and raving about the usually higher cost of buying local ingredients.)



Jasmine (Confessions of a Cardamom Addict) is hosting this event to coincide with the upcoming Canada Day celebrations on 1 July. She wrote:

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
– Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

A few years ago, Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess celebrated the culinary diversity that is Canada through Taste Canada. She asked bloggers […] to share what Canada tastes like to them.

This year I’m continuing her quest, but asking you to share which savoury dishes or drinks taste like Canada to you? […] [L]et your imagination run away with you? Any course, any reason, any season: it just needs to taste like Canada to you.

How to participate in Mmm…Canada, The Savoury Edition:

Write and upload your post between 23 and 28 June 2008. It can be in whatever form you wish: an essay, a series of photographs, a restaurant review, a recipe, an interview, a video. […]

For those of you who think Canada’s pretty sweet, Jennifer is taking care of all Canadian-inspired sweet dishes in this month’s SHF: Mmm… Canada, the Sugar High Edition. And if you think Canada’s both sweet and savoury: yes, you can participate in both events.

For complete details on how to participate in Mmm…Canada, please go to:

Canadian Food Blogger Please read my post for the sweet portion of this event:


Heh. Clearly, I need an editor with a large blue pencil! Congratulations if you held on right to the end of this voluminous post.

edit 4 July 2008: Whoohoo!! I see that Jasmine has posted Mmm…Canada (savoury edition) roundup. (Jennifer has also posted the Mmm…Canada/SHF#44 roundup.) Take a look at both; there are several wonderful looking dishes!

This entry was posted in crossblogging, food & drink, posts with recipes, side, various other events, vegetables on by .

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6 responses to “Pasta with Nettles and Cream Sauce (Mmm…Canada)

  1. Mats

    When I was a child in Sweden one quirky (to me ) old lady would clip young nettles for some purpose that beyond me. To me they were only things that sting severely on naked skin ( I once fell into a patch wearing only shorts!) SO, edible, eh?! Cool.

  2. african vanielje

    That was a great post and you seem to be getting more adventurous as you get older. You go girl. It reminds me Elizabeth, to go outside and pick some nettles for a perfect pasta meal.

  3. ejm Post author

    I too was quite thrilled and surprised to learn that nettles were edible, Mats. On the day that we first tried them I too was wearing shorts and had walked into a field of “mint”, brushing the leaves with my legs and hands to get the scent… :lalala: Happily, the stinging went away quite quickly. However, the memory of the stunning flavour of nettle stuffed pasta lingered and lingered. If you get a chance to try nettles next spring, do! (I think it’s too late in the season now.)

    Jasmine, I think we are very much closer to getting away from Milk Calendar like curries. Certainly, it has been years since I’ve made or had one. Our curries are all pretty close to any curries being made in Asia (with the exception of a few missing or added standard ingredients because of living in Canada). And really, how much more difficult is it to make a real curry? Is it really that much simpler to add some curry powder (shudder… I loathe most commercial curry powders) than it is to dry-fry some spices just before adding the other ingredients?

    Thank you AV. Yes, I’m so glad that I stopped being quite so finicky! But if you think about it, many people are much more adventurous now. We didn’t used to have the opportunity to even try things. There wasn’t the same abundant choice. I still remember trying tarragon for the first time. Dried tarragon… in those days, fresh tarragon wasn’t on just about every supermarket shelf.


    (Although not everyone is completely adventurous. I still reel that one of our French friends WILL NOT try corn on the cob, because he says that it’s horse feed.)

  4. marika

    Mmmmm….looks yummy – I’ve never had nettles – I might have rolled around in them as a child, but have never eaten them :) This sounds delicious!!

    You rolled around in nettles as a child, Marika?! And lived to tell the tale? (Yes, indeed, nettles in pasta IS delicious.) – Elizabeth

  5. a sister in the west

    Loved your post! One small correction. Our family is only half Anglo-Saxon. The other half would not define itself as Anglo-Saxon but as Celtic. Some of our great-grand parents spoke Gaelic. We were immigrants – refugees of the Scottish clearances, I guess, and brought some recipes to this continent, some of which are on this website – are they “Canadian”? BTW, and possibly a digression, but I believe it was our great great grandmother who our now-getting-elderly mother reports to have spoken a “patois of English, Gaelic and Cree” in southern Manitoba. Now I’m really digressing to explain that I don’t think we can claim any Cree ancestry, but our forbearers and the Cree kids must have played together. Our family history confirms that In the earliest days of Scottish settlement there was a pretty close and reciprocal relationship between settlers and indigenous peoples who generously helped settlers survive in a pretty tough climate. These relationships broke down with more and more settlement accompanied by disrespectful attitudes and confiscation of lands by colonists and the colonial governments. But there are old letters that showing how it took some time for the relationships to break down – there are letters indicating that our family members refused to help the government of the day to crack down on the metis resistence in the 1880s, several decades after the family arrived in southern Manitoba.)

    Thanks for these clarifications. Of course, I knew there was Scottish ancestry (as well as Irish) but it hadn’t occurred to me that this was completely different from “Anglo Saxon”. And I didn’t know about the patois of English, Gaelic and Cree spoken by our great Grandmother! Isn’t that great to hear that from the outset, Canadians were embracing and learning from people of all cultures. -ejm


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