What a difference a year makes. Last year, there is no way I would have picked nettles and eaten them. Not unless they were pre-washed and bagged in the produce aisle of the supermarket. But in my attempts to test vintage skills, I’ve fallen in love with using plants for medicine and beauty products, so foraging for food is a natural extension.
Recently I wrote about how to make a nettle infusion for a gentle spring detox.
I wanted to get a bit more creative with the rest of my spring nettles and decided to make a nettle pesto. It’s just like regular pesto, except instead of basil, it uses nettles! (Ok, I realize this might be pushing it a bit for some of you. If you’re feeling squeamish, try the infusion first … then work up to eating them whole, like spinach! )
2 double-handfuls of nettles – about 125g (only pick the tender flowering tops, in the spring, when the nettles are knee-height or less)
2 cloves garlic
1/3c (50g) pine nuts
1/2c (60g) grated parmesan cheese
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3c. (80ml) olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Bring a pan of water to the boil, and drop in your nettles. Let boil for 2-4 minutes, until wilted. (You HAVE to cook the nettles before eating to deactivate the sting!!) They’ll wilt like spinach, and you can strain the water off. (You can drink this nutrient-filled water like nettle infusion, or use it as part of your stock for your next pot of soup. At the very least, pour it on your plants.)
Grate the parmesan cheese.
Top tip: if you have a leftover parmesan cheese rind like in the picture, save it for your next pot of soup, and throw it in for flavor while the soup simmers (remove before eating). Yum. This is especially good in tomato-based soups like minestrone.
Put all of your ingredients EXCEPT olive oil in a food processor, pulse until just combined. Then turn the processor on steady and drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto is as thin as you want.
Serve immediately with pasta, in hummus, on bread, however you like pesto!
If you want to save some pesto, you can freeze some into ice cube trays for individual servings:
Or you can put some in a sterilized jar, adding more olive oil on the top to create a seal. Then cap and store in the fridge.
Remember: The most important part of foraging is correct plant identification! Nettles are pretty easy since they have a memorable sting, but a good wildflower book is essential. It’s also reassuring to ask a friend with a green thumb who knows local plants. Once you’re familiar with a few key plants in your area, you’ll be able to go out foraging on your own with confidence.
Bon appetit! Have you ever eaten nettles? Let us know in the comments.