Stinging Nettles. What, you missed that day in Professor Slughorn‘s class? Though raw stinging nettles will indeed hurt you for a few minutes if you touch them with bare hands, you don’t need a magic wand or copy of Advanced Potion-Making to transform those-who-shall-not-be-handled into a terrific—and nutrient-dense—workhorse green. A couple-minute blanch is all it takes to render them harmless to the touch and delicious to the taste, leaving you with versatile, lemony leaves (think a cross between spinach and green sorrel) that are rich in fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, A, and even a little protein.
The preview list for our final winter-season sharebox included nettles, and I was bummed that they didn’t make it into the shipment last week. So when I saw them Sunday morning at the Weavers Way stand at 2014’s first Headhouse Farmers’ Market, I snatched up a small bag. This time, I whirred them into a zippy pesto that got tossed with some pasta and fresh asparagus cut from my garden. Nettles also take well to egg dishes, so try subbing them for spinach in a frittata, tart, or quiche.
Go ahead. Be brave.
Stinging Nettle Pesto
- about 4 oz stinging nettles
- 1 large clove garlic, smashed (or a couple chopped scapes or green garlic shoots)
- 1/4 cup nuts, toasted and cooled (pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds)
- freshly ground pepper
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- about 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Fill a large pot with water, toss in a couple pinches of salt, and bring to a boil. Tip the nettles right from their bag into the water and simmer for 3 minutes, until they’re completely wilted. Stir a couple times to make sure all the leaves stay submerged. Drain well through a colander, pressing out as much excess water as you can. When mine were cool enough to handle, I actually ran them through my salad spinner to dry them further. Roughly chop the leaves, picking out any big pieces of stem.
In a food processor, pulse the garlic and nuts a few times. Add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and pulse again. Add the nettles to the bowl, separating any leaves that have clumped together. With the machine running, stream in the olive oil until you get a thick paste. Add the cheese and a spritz of lemon; pulse to incorporate. Taste, and adjust seasoning.