Stinging nettles are one of the most abundant and nutritional plants to forage this time of year. Though gloves are needed to pick these prickly plants, the risk of a sting is worth it (though some claim nettle stings can help with arthritis pain). Nettles are full of vitamins (A, several B vitamins, C, and K) and minerals (such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium) and contain all essential amino acids. They have a wonderful delicate flavor that’s similar to spinach but less metallic, in my opinion.
Though they grow just about anywhere, steer clear of picking them alongside busy roads or in areas where pesticides might be used. Take some gloves, scissors or knife, and a shopping bag. Snip the tops and a few stems down to keep the youngest, most tender leaves. Happy harvesting!
Walnut Nettle Pesto
I never measure ingredients when making pesto; I eyeball amounts and taste as I go along, adjusting as needed. As with any dish, make this one your own. Add a bit of basil if you’d like more of the traditional pesto flavor, toss in more garlic or lemon juice if it pleases, but this is a great starting point:
2 cups blanched nettles (see instructions below)
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup walnut oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the stinging nettles:
Bring a pot of well-salted water (salty like the sea!) to a boil. With gloves or tongs, carefully place nettles in the water and let blanch until wilted, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water and let nettles soak for 1-2 minutes. Then, transfer to a colander and let them drain until cool enough to handle. Once cooled use your hands to squeeze as much liquid out as possible. If you have a lot of nettles, you can do this process in batches.
Make the pesto:
Pulse nettles and walnuts together in a food processor. Add the walnut oil and the garlic and pulse until mixed. Add the cheese and the juice of half a lemon and pulse again. Season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust any ingredients to your liking.
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.