Did you know you could make pesto with wild nettle? Classical pesto is made with basil, but you can also make it with other herbs & greens such as parsley, coriander, arugula and, you guessed it, nettle! Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit as even in Italy, stinging nettles are used for making pesto d’urtica in the spring.
At this point, you may be itching (literally) to know if, as the name suggests, nettles actually sting? Well the answer is yes… and no. You will need some gear to keep the plants stinging nettles away from your skin: gloves and long sleeves. If you also happen to have a little 4-year old to film the “action” and a cat that follows you around like a dog, even better! Finally, once you blanch the nettle leaves you will have neutralized their sting and you can start cooking!
So, why go through so much trouble to cook “weeds”, especially stinging ones? The stinging nettle is possibly one of the most loved and hated plants. However, it’s well worth overcoming its prickly nature and learning to use stinging nettle in the kitchen. It tastes great, works well as a substitute for spinach and is packed with healthy properties including iron, calcium, vitamins A and C. It’s no wonder the nettle is a favorite with herbalists and naturopaths. It’s also used by shamans in some Andean countries to rid the body of negative energy. As this involves whipping and rubbing the body with stinging nettle, I don’t necessarily recommend it. The image of my 65-year old aunt undergoing such a treatment years ago, during a trip to Ecuador, is etched in my mind forever! But I digress… back to our nettle project.
Neutralizing the nettles
Grab your gloves, a long sleeve shirt and a grocery bag to fill. When you are done picking, discard the stems and rinse leaves in cold water. Get a big pot of water boiling and add a handful of salt. Using tongs, grab the leaves and put them in the water, stirring. Blanch the leaves for 90 seconds.
Remove leaves and put them to strain and cool in a colander. Press out most of the water (who says we can’t have fun with our food?) Save the cooking liquid and squeezed out juices to make nettle lemonade!
It takes about 5 minutes to measure and prepare the 5 ingredients you will need for this simple wild nettle pesto recipe.
Wild Nettle Pesto:
1 cup blanched nettle leaves (about ½ pound fresh leaves)
1 cup wild garlic* or 3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan
1/3 cup almonds
salt to taste
* wild garlic is a vulnerable species in Quebec (find out more about picking rules & recommendations in French here.)
First, grind up almonds in a blender and set aside. Next blend wild garlic, nettle, salt and olive oil until you have a thick consistent paste. Add ground almonds and parmesan cheese.
Enjoy your wild nettle pesto! It’s delicious on grilled cheese sandwiches, on pizza, in soup, on fish and of course in pasta.
Keeps in your fridge for a few days and freezes well.
The water used to blanch the nettles is basically nettle tea. Use about 2 litres of the cooled liquid and add the juice of one lemon, a few sprigs of mint, lots of ice and maple syrup to taste! Enjoy great tasting lemonade without wasting any of the nettle’s health benefits.
Enjoy and let me know how it turns out for you!