While in my course at the Northwest Culinary Academy, we spent a day at an allotment garden in Richmond. Part of what we learned was about foraging for edible items. One of the things readily available in the springtime is stinging nettle! As the culinary students were required to use a foraged item in their menu development (and the pastry students were their guinea pigs), I got to try plenty of nettle pesto!
Now, if you’re like me, you may not have heard of stinging nettle before. Honestly, I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of it until that day, as it’s everywhere! It’s not just prolific, but it’s also the kind of thing you should be aware of… it hurts! Seriously, don’t touch this stuff without protective gloves. I accidentally touched the bag I was putting it in with my arm, and got stung. I guess my gloves got some residue on the outside…
But while stinging nettle, well… stings, it’s also one other thing – free! Homemade pesto is one of those things that always seems to cost too much. Fresh basil and pine nuts aren’t the cheapest things to buy. So I decided to try my hand at making some nettle pesto using not just free stinging nettles, but the cheapest nuts I could find! I think pine nuts could give it a better flavor, so if you’re flush, go for it! Buuuut… if you’re trying to save on money, try walnuts!
Oh, and for more money saving – try grana padano cheese instead of parmesan. It’s cheaper but still awesome!
To harvest the nettles, make sure to pick ones that aren’t right beside a busy path (dog pee et al) and only pick the top 4-6 leaves. The younger ones are best. And obviously, wear proper gloves, like gardening ones!
As for that stinging part? Well, it goes away once the nettles have been subjected to heat! So all you need to do to make them safe to eat and touch, is to blanch in boiling water. After that, they are totally safe!
Once you have your inexpensive nettle pesto all made up, you can store it in a mason jar! Just make sure to top it with a layer of olive oil to keep it fresh.
As for what to use it for? Well, pretty much anything! Swirl some into tomato soup, use it on pasta, or do what I did – make an awesome caprese salad with it!
- 60g stinging nettle leaves
- 25g parmesan, or grana padano cheese
- 25g toasted walnuts or pine nuts
- 75ml olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- splash of lemon juice
- pinch of salt
- Using protective gloves, remove all the leaves as well as any tender shoots from the nettles.
- Fill a large bowl with ice water, and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Blanche the stinging nettle leaves for one minute in the boiling water, before plunging into the ice water.
- Once cool, remove the leaves and squeeze out any excess water.
- Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor and blend until a fine paste. Add the oil and blitz until combined.
- Add more oil if desired to reach the consistency that you want.
- Store in a clean jar with a layer of olive oil on top.