Pesto can be made from really anything. I’ve seen pesto with basil of course, but also mint, parsley, cilantro and other herbs. No reason not to make it with stinging nettles. The Italians actually do make a nettle pesto in springtime; they call it pesto d’urtica. You must first blanch the nettles before making this pesto. You do not want to pick up fresh nettles, as they will sting you. Be sure to wear gloves when removing the nettle leaves from the stems, and then use tongs to pick them up.
Photo by Hank Shaw
makes about 1/2 to 3/4 cup
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
• 3-4 cups (two or three big tong-full of fresh nettles)
• 6-8 tablespoons blanched, chopped nettles
• The best quality Extra-Virgin olive oil (about 3-4 tablespoons)
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or any nuts you like
Get a large pot of boiling water and add a handful of salt.
Using tongs lower the nettles into the boiling water. Stir around and boil for 1-2 minutes.
Get the blanched nettle out with a skimmer or the tongs and immediately transfer them into a colander placed in a big bowl with ice water. Once they are cool, wrap in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
This particular pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle. You can make this in a food processor, but it will not be the same.
First add the pine nuts and crush lightly, they will jump out of your mortar if you get too vigorous.
Roughly chop the garlic and add it to the mortar, then pound a little.
Add the salt, red pepper flakes, cheese and the nettles; Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all well bland.
Start adding olive oil. How much depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread or adding to a risotto, add about 2 tablespoons.
For a pasta sauce, double that or more. Either way, you add 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it.
Serve as a spread on bread in a sandwich or add 1 or 2 tablespoons to a minestrone soup, as a pasta sauce or on top of fish or poultry.
You can also fry fresh nettles and use them as a beautiful and delicious addition to sandwiches or just enjoy them as a snack.
Here is the quick recipe:
2 cups freshly picked stinging nettles
½ cup any light oil for frying
Place a frying pan on the stove top. Add the oil and let it get really hot. Fry the nettles quickly over high heat until they are crispy. Drain on paper towels and lightly sprinkle with salt.