When I happened upon stinging nettles at the Marin Civic Center Farmer’s Market last week I was surprised. Several farm stands were offering the prickly plant – what drew my attention to the naughty nettles was the discourse between the customers and the farmer at Star Route Farms. ”What do you do with those?” “Why would I want to buy nettles?” “Which braising green is the highest in iron?” The questions were flying across the stall. The farmer rattled off a long list of possibilities and his suggestive selling pointed directly to the nettle that Thursday. I was sold.
According to wikipedia the stinging nettle has a flavour similar to spinach when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Young plants were harvested by Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce. The height of Spring to me means one thing in particular – hay fever. If you’re like me and lend yourself to the natural and raw ingredients in an attempt to combat precarious pollens, nettles should be at the top of your list – along with local honey (see Marshall Farms Stall Report - pick up their Mt. Tam Wildflower this season see also their awesome “Allergy Relief Packs” which selects the artisanal products for you based upon where you live).
At home I began my search for the makings of a new Roots Recipe. In my research the list grew long: extracts, teas, soups, pestos, polenta, pastas, spreads, simply braised and more. My sights were set on a pesto.
What you’ll need:
- 4 full cups of nettles
- 2 cups of wild arugula
- 2 cups of basil leaves
- 1 cup of almonds (or any other nut – walnuts, pecans, etc)
- ½ cup of pine nuts
- 10-12 cloves of garlic (or to taste – I’m a huge garlic fan so its really up to you at this point)
- 2 cups of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (some say Parmigano Reggiano is more authentic and offers a profound nutty flavor and others prefer Pecorino Romano which is known for its piquant and zesty accents)
- 3/4 cup of olive oil (I recommend McEvoy Ranch certified local organic Tuscan style Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1 t. salt
- ¾ t. freshly ground pepper
How to begin:
Start by preheating your oven to 375°F. Lightly toast your nut mix in the oven until golden brown (about 5 minutes but watch closely). Cool on a flour sack towel (or paper towel).
To “treat” the nettles and remove their sting you can either blanch them or lightly sauté them on the stove top. Use tongs to cook your nettles. In this recipe I recommend simply blanching the greens before creating your protein-packed pesto.
After you blanch and dry the nettles combine them with the arugula, basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor and pulse until you achieve a coarse chop. Add your olive oil until fully incorporated. Add your cheese and pulse until blended. Season with your salt & pepper to taste.
- Use your pesto on pastas, as a sandwich spread, serve with crackers, in a salad dressing or as a dipping sauce.
- You can freeze your Nutty Nettle Pesto for a future date.
- You can also omit the other greens (arugula & basil) and use only stinging nettles in this recipe – I personally like to mix it up with the other spicy, aromatic leafy greens.
- You can blanch, dry and freeze nettles to use in the off-season.
- Did you know that in its peak season, stinging nettle contains up to 25% protein, dry weight, which is high for a leafy green vegetable. (Wikipedia)
- The medicinal uses for stinging nettles date back before the 10th century in literature and offer relief and cures for ailments ranging from arthritis, allergies, hay fever, dandruff, kidney problems, anemia, pain and the stopping of blood flow. (WebMD)