Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Nettles Strike Back.

A few weeks ago I posted a little about my love of cooking with stinging nettles and used them in some tasty ravioli. In my book, the only thing better than really tasty food is food which is not only delicious, but mostly free, incredibly healthy and so local that the food distance can be counted in yards rather than miles.
I went nettle picking again on Monday and had planned to get just enough to make a risotto similar to one Alex Rushmer made over at Just cook It. When my little dog Violet and I got out to the woods though, I saw that many of the nettles were just starting to form flower heads, which aren't tasty and pretty much signal the end of nettle-eating season. I decided there and then that I would pick a LOT and would make a pesto, which will last me a while so that I can still be munching long after the nettles are no longer worth picking.

I wore surgical-style latex gloves just as I did last time, but you know, I think that the little buggers have toughened up over the couple of weeks since my last harvest. I felt a few prickles through my gloves, by rather than walk the whole hundred feet back to my kitchen for thicker gloves, I toughed it out and continued picking until I had almost a grocery bag full.
When I got home, my fingers were tingling and prickling a little, as one might expect, but I must have been prickled more than I thought, because


All evening and into the night, my fingers on my right hand felt as though they'd been hit with hammers and were being repeatedly electrocuted. It wasn't until the following evening -so about 36 hours later- that the sensation subsided and I stopped whining about it.
So let this be a lesson to you all. Seems obvious, right? Wear thick gloves when you're picking nettles.

I made this pesto in the traditional way, but substituting nettle for almost all of the basil. We had it on some pizza that night and it was very tasty on some poached eggs the following morning.
There is still the hint of basil, but the predominant flavour is the fresh nettle, which is predictably lovely with the parmesan and walnut flavours. This recipe makes quite a lot but should survive well in the fridge. If you're not feeling generous enough to give some away, it should freeze well for months.

Stinging Nettle Pesto
Makes about 1 kilo (2 lbs)

350g (12oz) well-washed nettle tops
150g walnuts
500ml extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs basil
75g parmesan, finely grated
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Blanch the nettles and the basil in salted boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge into ice-cold water to stop the cooking. This will kill the prickles and will help the leaves retain their bright green colour long after the pesto has been put away in the fridge
Put all of the ingredients except for half of the olive oil into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds or so, until fairly uniformly chopped, scraping down the sides with a spatula if need be.
With the food processor running, pour the remaining olive oil in, until you have a thick, paste-like consistency. Really, you can make your pesto as thick and course or thin and smooth as you like just by adjusting the amount of olive oil.
I don't salt my pesto because I never know what I'm going to use it on, but you absolutely can if you prefer it a little seasoned.

Put into jars and pour over a little olive oil to help preserve it. your pesto should keep for several week in the fridge like this.

I also made an all-sourdough pizza crust that night. It was incredibly crisp and chewy and quite sour, which my husband really loved. I'm going to do it one more time before I post the recipe though, just to make sure I get the same result.

06/05/10 P.S. Nettles are known for their hay fever-relieving properties. Christian came home from school today with red eyes, sneezing and congestion so I jumped into action and gave him a big spoonful of this pesto with a slice of quiche (recipe to follow) and within the hour he was feeling fine. Not just better, but totally fine. As James Wong would say "This was not a clinical trial, but many people find that natural remedies are as effective as conventional medicines"


  1. Oh Emily, sorry about your fingers. I'm such a baby about any pain, so I feel for you. I'm telling you, if I was ever interrogated with pain causing measures, i would be telling those people anything they wanted to hear (true or not)! I'm ashamed but it's true! Maybe I could hold out for a little while for the ones I love, but I don't know...
    This pesto sounds great though. I wish I had stinging nettles near my place.
    Oh, and sorry for not checking in this last week-my Mom was in town.

  2. Mom in town is the best reason I can think of to deviate from your regular schedule. I haven't seen mine in nearly THREE YEARS! Man, I need to make a trip back to the States!