$5 Friday: Thistle Agnolotti

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As I was making this recipe, I was multi-tasking and chatting with my mum on the phone.  When I told her what I was making, she was appalled.  “Don’t eat that,” she said.  “You will make yourself sick!”.

Thistle agnolotti being filled on a floured board

The soft rain that is falling this week in Canberra is giving rise to lots of greenery.  Most keen gardeners will start to worry about needing to poison the weeds or mow them down.

Not me: I look on the weeds as a food source.  I also believe that, based on my rudimentary and not always practiced knowledge of macrobiotic food, that late winter and early spring is the perfect time to eat these antioxidant rich  weeds as they are detoxifying after a winter of eating heavier foods.

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Nice healthy thistles growing in my garden.  Not, er, deliberately, but still healthily.

Actually I have eaten these Scottish thistles before and had no bad side effects (my Mum was still not convinced). In fact, thistles are quite the super food.  They assist weight loss, help purify the liver and gallbladder, decrease cholesterol and can help to prevent cancer.  Among other things.  They are also free, and in most gardens, are considered a pest and are removed using strong chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.  Why not eat them instead?

This recipe makes about 60 large agnolotti.  Spinach and ricotta agnolotti or ravioli are my go-to food when I am feeling like treating myself to something nice.  The only thing is most manufactured versions have much more ricotta than spinach in them, I guess because commercially grown spinach is expensive.  Commercially grown spinach also contains a lot of pesticides. Not so the thistle – it is so prickly that it is difficult for most pests to eat it.

I had a profusion of eggs at home so I made the pasta dough for these agnolotti.  Actually the eggs were gifted so the overall cost of making the dish for me was in reality even lower.In the past I have been lazy and used gow gee wrappers.  Do whatever works for you.  You can also reduce the costs by making your own ricotta cheese. I didn’t on this occasion as making the dough was already a bit of a production.  But it would reduce the overall cost to only $2.20 if you did so.  Still at only 5c each for silky smooth large homemade agnolotti, it is already pretty good value.  (Note: I found I had too much pasta dough for mixture, so I made some pasta for the kids for dinner.  So this $2.90 price includes 60 agnolotti, plus dinner for two kidlets and leftover for my lunch the next day.)

Ingredients:

Pasta:
5 eggs
500g strong flour e.g. baking flour (approximately)

Filling
1 large bunch Scottish thistle
1/2 tub ricotta cheese
2/3 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Method

  1. Break the eggs into a bowl, and gradually add enough flour until the mixture is incorporated. Need until the mixture is firm and elastic. If it sticks to your hands, you need more flour.  Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes. (Note: I cheated and used the bread maker for this step to do the hard mixing for me.)

    Pasta dough ready to roll
    Pasta dough ready to roll
  2. Meanwhile, go into your garden and harvest a large bunch of thistles.  Use gardening or other gloves so that you don’t hurt yourself on the thistles.  Bring a large saucepan to the boil, and put the thistles in to blanch. I find it works best if I cut the thistles in half and do them in batches.

    Blanched thistles
    Blanched thistles
  3. When cooked until tender but while still vibrant green, remove from the sauce pan with tongs and put into a bowl of cold water.  When all the thistles have been cooked, place them into a colander and allow to drain. (Normally with spinach I would press them to remove all moisture but with thistles it is kind of hard.  The thistles soften considerably after being boiled, but they are still a little prickly.)
  4. In a food processor, combine the drained thistles, ricotta cheese, breadcrumbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper.  Combine for several minutes until the mixture is fine. If the mixture is too sloppy, add more breadcrumbs.  The end result should be a bright, green alien goop style mixture that is just delicious!
    Green filling processed in a food processor
  5. Follow your pasta machine instructions to roll out your pasta. If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin to roll out thinly but a pasta machine will save a lot of work and get to the right consistency.  The main thing is to roll and fold a few times to get a nice shape and consistency before rolling out super thing.  If the mixture sticks a bit add more flour.  I don’t make mine too thin as they need to support the filling – on my machine I roll to about a ‘six’ rather than a ‘nine’.
    Rolling the pasta out
    Rolling the pasta out

    Little A tries to sneak a piece of uncooked pasta
    Little A tries to sneak a piece of uncooked pasta
  6. Using a scone cutter or a small class, cut the pasta dough into rounds.  Place a small spoonful of the thistle and ricotta mixture into the centre of each round, close over a seal up. I tend to overfill and then the mixture oozes out a bit.

    Filling the agnolotti
    Filling the agnolotti
  7. If you are planning to eat immediately place the agnolotti on a flour tea towel, and cook in salted boiling water.  They are ready in only a matter of minutes – usually when they float to the surface.

    Agnolotti on a tupperware plate
    Ready to freeze
  8. I tend to make in bulk to freeze to eat on ‘there is nothing in the fridge’ days.  I find it easiest to freeze on plastic plates (I have some Tupperware plates that are ideal for this).  Once frozen solid, I transfer to a ziploc bag or Tupperware container for future use.  The frozen agnolotti take slightly longer than fresh ones to cook, but are still faster than a take away dinner and much better for you, too.

Total cost:

Eggs:  $1.10
Flour: 40c
Scottish thistle: free, foraged
Ricotta cheese: $1.20
Breadcrumbs:  free, made from leftovers
Nutmeg, salt and pepper: 20c

Total:  $2.90 makes around 60 medium to large agnolotti (i.e. at 5c each). An average meal would consist of around 8 agnolotti at 40c (plus extra for parmesan cheese, butter, sage and/or olive oil to top).

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