Foragers & Herbalists: Pansotti (pot-bellied ravioli) stuffed with foraged stinging nettle & garlic mustard 

May 23, 2022

By Merrie Witkin 

A patch of stinging nettles.

When I started writing this column, stinging nettles (urtica dioica) were not anywhere  on my radar. But I am blessed with an eagle-eyed gardener who knows his local  plants. For years Elton has been bringing me wild foraged watercress and other  greens, and has touted nettles as a delicious green I should try. Finally he found a  patch of nettles while pruning some undergrowth at the edge of my yard and pointed  them out to me. Ever curious, I did some research to see how they could be used. It  turns out nettles are highly nutritious with significant levels of protein, vitamins and  absorbable calcium and iron. They have a delicate earthy flavor, similar to spinach. I tried them in soup, mixed with herbs in a pesto, and in pasta, more particularly in the Ligurian stuffed pasta known as “pansotti” (which means “pot-bellied” in the Ligurian  dialect). All were delicious, but making pansotti was the most fun. 

Green leaves in a plastic bag on asphalt

A bag of foraged nettles.

Identifying and harvesting nettles. Stinging nettle is an erect perennial, usually  unbranched, with paired opposing leaves shaped a little like mint—sawtoothed leaves  with pointy tips. They develop large colonies through spread by rhizomes (as well as  seeds). Stinging hairs are located on the lower side of the leaf blade and on the  stems, which are 4-angled. Nettles thrive in damp nutrient rich soil; they are found in  orchards, nurseries, pastures and on the outskirts of farmlands. The plants generally  flower from late May to October, but it is best to collect the greens before they  flower. (1) 

Green leaves in a pot

Stinging nettles must be blanched in order to remove the “sting”

To harvest them and prevent stings, wear long sleeves and gloves and clip the nettle  stems leaving about 3-5 inches of stem and plant remaining. When harvesting in mid  spring, snip off only the tender-leafed top portion. I collect the leafy stems in a  basket, wearing rubber gloves, which enable me then to safely strip off the leaves.  Wash the fresh leaves in a big bowl of cool water, which also lessens the sting.  Cooking or drying the leaves removes the sting entirely. The easiest way to fully de-sting the leaves and prepare them for cooking is to briefly blanch them in salted  boiling water (about a minute, not much more or they become mushy), then drain and  rinse them in cool water. Squeeze the cooled leaves to remove the water, and at this  stage they are ready for whatever recipe you choose to use them in—simply sautéed with oil and garlic, in soup or pesto, or mixed with other herbs and ingredients as a  pasta stuffing, etc. Once blanched they can also be frozen until you are ready to use  them. 


Pansotti is a triangular-shaped stuffed ravioli-like pasta traditionally filled with a  mixture of foraged parboiled greens known as “preboggion”, cheese and nutmeg.  The mix of wild herbs and greens can include nettles, borage, dandelion, rocket,  chicory, and marjoram, among others native to Liguria. Cultivated greens such as  spinach, chard, beet greens and parsley can also be substituted. Like most Italian  pasta recipes, every pansotti recipe I found was different. Some variation is to be  expected because the mix of foraged and cultivated greens and herbs will vary due  to the time of year, and what is available in the chosen locale. Other differences  (greens to cheese ratio, adding egg or garlic, or not) may follow from what I call the  “Nonna effect”— that is, everyone’s recipe is based on what they learned from their  grandmother. That said, I make no pretense that my recipe is authentic; garlic  mustard is not a traditional preboggion green, but its mustardy bitter element is not  dissimilar to that of rocket or dandelion, and it adds a complementary mild garlic element to the nettle mix, with the added benefit that it grows everywhere in our area! [Click here to read about it in this months Species Spotlight!] As for herbs, I use the traditional marjoram (which you can substitute with a mild young oregano if you don’t have  marjoram) along with parsley. 


Raviolis on a blue and white plate atop a wooden cutting board

The finished pansotti

Ingredients and tools 


Digital scale—to weigh the blanched greens to achieve a consistent ratio between  nettles and garlic mustard, as well as flour, if making your own pasta dough Silicone pastry brush 

  • Mixing bowls 
  • Pasta roller or rolling pin 
  • Pasta dough 

(If you are trying nettles and garlic mustard for the first time and don’t want to go to  the trouble of making pasta dough just yet, you can use won ton wrappers.)  Otherwise – 

  • 400 grams (14 oz) 00 or all-purpose flour 
  • 3 eggs  
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) dry white wine 
  • water, added slowly to the dough as needed 
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pasta filling 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 good sized clove garlic, finely minced  
  • 120 grams (4.25 oz) blanched drained nettles or spinach 
  • 60 grams (2.12 oz) blanched garlic mustard, or blanched mixture of garlic mustard and baby arugula, squeezed dry. (2) 
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley  
  • 2 sprigs fresh marjoram or mild oregano, leaves minced (about 1.5 tsp.) 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp ricotta 
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese 
  • dash of nutmeg, to taste 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 


To make the pasta dough 

  1. Add the flour to a bowl. Add the cracked eggs, salt, wine and 2 tbsp water to  the center and whisk the egg/liquid mixture with a fork, gradually incorporating  flour into the mixture until a rough dough is formed.  
  2. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes.  If the dough seems flaky or dry, add a little water on your palms and continue to  knead, until the dough is smooth and supple. Cover with plastic wrap and let it  rest for 30 minutes. 

Make the filling 

While the dough is resting, make the filling: 

  1. Finely chop the blanched greens and place in a mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the ricotta, minced garlic, grated Parmesan, egg, minced parsley and 1tsp of  the minced marjoram, and mix thoroughly. 
  3. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. At this point, you can add more of  the marjoram remaining, to taste (it’s better to add a portion first, and taste and  adjust, as with the seasonings). The mixture should be well seasoned, but not taste too intensely of marjoram. 

Making the pansotti  

  • Divide the rested dough into quarters and roll it out either by hand with a rolling  pin or, if you have one, a pasta machine. You are looking for a thin sheet (about  1-1.5 mm thick, or when you can readily see your hand through the sheet).  
  • Cut the dough into squares about 3-3.5 inches per side (like a good sized won ton  wrapper). 
  • Top the center of each square with a heaping tsp of filling and, using the pastry  brush, brush a little water around all 4 edges. Fill well—you are looking for the  pansotti to be paunchy. Fold the dough over to form a triangle. Press the edges  well to seal them. As you finish making them, lay the pansotti out on a lightly  floured surface or sheet pan. 
  • Once made, the pasta should be cooked that day, or they can be frozen. 

Finishing and saucing the pansotti 

Pansotti is traditionally served with a walnut sauce (salsa di noce), made like a white  pesto with chopped walnuts, olive oil, garlic, marjoram and milk-soaked bread for  creaminess. With their delicate flavor, however, pansotti shine equally well with a  simple pan sauce of butter, grated Parmesan and chopped parsley, snipped chives  (or field garlic chives) and marjoram. I add some chopped walnuts which toast lightly  in the butter pan sauce. 

  1. Boil the pansotti in a large pot of well salted water for about 6-8 minutes,  depending on how al dente you like your pasta. Carefully monitor the boil, as the  fresh pasta is delicate and if they cook or are roiled too much they may open up  in the pot. 
  2. While the pasta is cooking, melt a tablespoon of butter for each 4-5 pansotti  being cooked in a sauté pan large enough to hold them. You can add a handful  of well chopped walnuts and toast them gently in the foaming butter. Scoop out  the cooked pansotti from the pot with a slotted spoon or strainer, and add to the sauté pan to finish cooking with the butter and walnuts. Add some minced parsley, snipped chives and minced marjoram, to taste, and a spoonful of pasta water to help emulsify and add salinity to the sauce. Toss or stir gently until the pansotti  are coated with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on top. 

Depending on how big you make them, serve 4-5 pansotti per person for an  appetizer, and 7-8 for a main course. 


(1) The flowers, which are not showy, grow in tendrils drooping from the stems. Once nettles flower, the leaves become bitter and gritty, as the plant starts producing  calcium oxalate which can be absorbed by the body. For more information please  refer to a reputable handbook on foraging.

Second year garlic mustard.

(2) Use the same method to harvest, clean and blanch the garlic mustard as you do with the nettles. Look for tender leaves on either first or second year plants. Garlic mustard can be harvested any time during its two year life cycle, but earlier/younger  leaves will be less bitter.


There are any number of good books on identifying and foraging wild foods. My  principal references are: 

Uva, Richard, Neal, Joseph, and DiTomaso, Joseph, Weeds of the Northeast, 1997,  Cornell University Press; 

Meredith, Leda, Northeast Foraging, 2014, Timber Press 

Reliable websites for cooking tips and recipes for nettles and other foraged greens  include:;; and 

There are numerous YouTube videos showing how pansotti are made. This includes  the cult series Pasta Grannies (which feature real Italian Nonnas cooking pasta dishes  in their home kitchens), a Jamie Oliver video on nettle ravioli (Nettle Ravioli/Jamie  Oliver), and a helpful MaryAnn Esposito video (


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