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Nettle Pesto

(recipe, Louisa Shafia)


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Introduction

Nettles — weeds that grow throughout the United States — are like something out of a scary children’s story. Their leaves are serrated like teeth and they’re covered with spiky hairs that sting on contact. But the sting is fleeting, and the antidote is the juice of the nettles’ own leaves. Boiled briefly, nettles turn into a rich green vegetable much like spinach. You can drink the nutrient-rich cooking water like tea; just leave out the salt. Toss this pesto with pasta, spread it on seared fish or chicken, or use as a dip for raw vegetables.

Ingredients

  1. Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  2. ¼ lb. stinging nettles
  3. ¼ cup fresh mint leaves
  4. 1 garlic clove, minced
  5. ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
  6. 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  7. ⅓ cup olive oil
  8. ¼ cup firmly packed grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Steps

  1. Fill a large pot halfway full with water. Add ¼ cup salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Fill the sink or a large bowl with cold water. Using gloves or tongs, submerge the nettles in the water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the nettles and discard the water. Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems.
  3. Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop.
  4. Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the mint, garlic, pine nuts, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste.
  5. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Note

Culinate editor's note: Pick only young, delicate nettle leaves for this dish (wearing thick gloves and long sleeves, of course). If the nettles are clean enough, skip the cold-water stage of this recipe and go straight to the blanching stage. So long as you don't include long, thick stems in the mix, you can blanch the stems and the leaves together and leave the stems on; they grind down into a paste just fine. See more at Heather Arndt Anderson's post about nettles.