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Stinging Nettle Pesto

May 3, 2009

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I’ve been thinking about morels a lot lately. C and I are timing a visit to my parents with the weather and soil temperatures in mind (and of course Dad’s birthday and Mother’s Day) hoping we will be lucky enough to arrive just as the morels are sprouting. These seasonal mushrooms are tasty of course but there is something else that excites the minds of morel hunters – the thrill of foraging for our own food. The search brings a sense of adventure and keener eyes to a walk in the woods and the joy of spotting a mushroom can become almost addictive.

Morels perhaps get all of the attention but there are a wide variety of edible plants available to us, many in our own backyard. Spring is also the best time to try these plants as new shoots and tender leaves will toughen and become more bitter as spring turns to summer.

This recipe actually comes from our local CSA via their e-newsletter. Those who are members will be receiving nettles in their box, but for C and I, a quick trip to the backyard led to a bounty of the noxious yet nutritious plant. I’ve always held quite a grudge when it comes to nettles, all of those childhood memories of summers spent exploring the woods and ditches on our farm and emerging from an adventure with bare legs and arms burning and covered in itchy white bumps. I wore rubber gloves while collecting and prepping the nettles but once blanched they are as scary as spinach and have a surprisingly mellow flavor. I used pine nuts and perhaps too much garlic (4 cloves) in the pesto and for dinner, I tossed some cooked whole wheat rotini with the pesto and sprinkled Parmesan on top. C grilled a chicken breast and we had a lovely spring dinner.

Stinging Nettle Pesto
from the Rock Spring Farm Eat Better Newsletter
Contributed by member Jenneane Jansen

6 c. nettles
Water for blanching
1/3 c. nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, or almonds all work)
1-5 cloves garlic, depending on preference, peeled and trimmed
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. lemon juice
1/4-1/2 c. good-quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
(The quality of the olive oil will make a big difference to this dish.)

Set the water to a boil in a large sauce pan. Do not add salt.

Toast the nuts in the oven at 350 until fragrant and slightly darker in color, about 3-7 minutes, depending on the nut. Allow to cool.

Rinse the nettles in cold water, and chop out the stems. The easiest way to avoid getting stung is to wear rubber gloves. But the hairs that cause the sting are very fragile, too, so swishing the nettles in a sink full of cold water will eliminate most of the hazard.

When the water comes to a boil, put the nettle leaves in the pot until wilted and bright green, about 1 minute. Drain in a colander and keep the boiling liquid for a healthy green tea. Allow the nettles to cool.

Place the drained, cooled nettles, cooled nuts, garlic, cheese, lemon juice, and one tablespoon of the oil in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is a thick green paste.

With the machine running, slowly add the remaining olive oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Toss with pasta (gnocchi is traditional), drizzle over chicken, or spread on toasted French bread. The pesto can be frozen.

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