Sting for your Supper

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.

In the bag
Not poisonous, just painful. A quick blanch denatures the sting of the leaves’ tiny, hollow hairs.

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.

Barilotti pasta, nettle pesto, and steamed asparagus. A bowl full of springtime.

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
  • salt
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • about 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Toasted walnuts and green garlic, reporting for duty.

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.

A 4-ounce bag, after cooking and trimming, yielded one cup of blue-green leaves.

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.

Pesto will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The wee jar on the right has no cheese and will go in the freezer.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. pavanneh says:

    I had no idea you could eat those. Great to know.

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Pavanneh. Nettles are definitely worth the trouble–but if you’re foraging for your own, use gloves and wear long sleeves!

  2. jayme marie says:

    I will have to make the stinging nettle pesto – and it’s nice to see that I must be doing the right thing – not adding cheese, when freezing pesto. I find that it keeps better, if I add the cheese and more oil later, once the pesto has thawed. Great post, Susan!

    1. Susan says:

      Thanks, Jayme Marie. That was a fun one, and I’m so glad to have the leftovers tucked away for later. Cheers!

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