Simple Nettle and Walnut Pesto

Did you know that Britain’s oldest recipe, dated from 6000 BC, was nettle pudding? 8,000 years ago our ancestors knew the magic of the simple stinging nettle. I remember as a child making nettle tea with my cousins, which is quite remarkable since I hated tea until I was an adult. I also hated nettles and would thwack them with a stick, pretending I was Indiana Jones in The Temple of Doom. Sorry nettles. Recipes have got a bit more exciting now though, with the likes of lentil & nettle curry, nettle & wild garlic soup, nettle ravioli, and lemon & nettle cupcakes to name a few.

This wonder plant helps rid the body of excess toxins, improves the nutrient uptake efficiency of the gut and aids digestion. Ladies, nettles got our back for sure: they can ease painful labour, stop excessive bleeding by acting as a coagulant, and also soothe menstrual cramps and bloating. They are high in Vitamin C and iron, boosting energy levels and relieving fatigue. Nettles are also anti-inflammatory, and can help lower blood pressure. The list goes on…

I wanted to show you how easy it is to make a delicious nettle pesto, and the healing and health properties of nettles are an added bonus really. Not to mention they are FREE! I don’t know about you, but the thought of a refreshing, yet comforting, bowl of nettle pesto pasta with a cold glass of white wine in the evening sun is one of the best thoughts I’ve had all year.

nettles.jpg

You want to use young nettles, which are best picked in spring as the older leaves will be far too bitter. So, if you’re picking the nettles in summer (because I can never seem to post a blog recipe on time) then remember to only pick the tops of the plants.
Jamie Oliver taught me that in order to make a great pesto, you should always lightly toast the nuts beforehand to release their oils, and you should bash everything up in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have one of these then a food processor is absolutely fine but it won’t be quite the same. Seriously, you should try the pestle and mortar technique. I scoffed at Jamie’s wise words, then I tried it, and bloody hell. It’s incredible. When I’m feeling lazy the trusty food processor comes out, but when I’m only feeling only moderately lazy I put the pestle and mortar on a tray, then bash everything up in front of the TV. Where I am probably watching a Jamie Oliver episode.
cooking with nettles

 

As with most of my recipes, the ingredient quantities are a bit slapdash, a hint of this, pinch of that, dash of this, drop of that… When you’re trying someone’s recipe you should make it all about you and your tastes. This is why you should always try your pesto and see if it needs anything more, like extra salt, or oil, or cheese. Low quality olive oil can affect the taste as well. If your pesto tastes a bit bitter and you can’t rectify it, then make pesto pasta with it, reserving a little of the pasta water to mix in, and it will not taste bitter.
INGREDIENTS:
A couple big bunches of nettles
(you will be blanching them like spinach so they will wilt down)
1/3 cup walnuts (other nuts work well too)
2 garlic cloves
2-3 tbsp  cheese (nutritional yeast/vegetarian Grana Padano/Parmesan/or emit it altogether as toasting your nuts gives pesto richness)
Pinch salt
Good quality olive oil
Squeeze lemon juice (optional)

METHOD:
  1. Go into the woods, your garden, or wherever there might be some young stinging nettles. Wearing gloves, pick two or three big handfuls.

  2. Prepare a large bowl filled with ice cold water, then bring another large pot of salted boiling water to the boil. Still wearing gloves, drop the nettles and stir. Boil for about a minute or two, no more

  3. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the ice water. This process of blanching the nettles keeps their vibrant green colour and gets rid of their sting. Once they are cold you can put them in a colander or sieve to drain and squeeze out the excess moisture. Dice the nettles and leave them to one side

  4. Add the garlic to the pestle and mortar and pound, then toast the walnuts on a low flame and bash them up too

  5. Add the nettles and half the cheese, if using, and bash to a paste

  6. Begin drizzling in olive oil, a little at a time. Taste the pesto, add more cheese if you like, or more oil

  7. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

nettle pesto.jpg

Side note: when storing your pesto, keep in an airtight container in the fridge, and drizzle olive oil lightly over it until it is completely coated. This barrier will keep the pesto fresh and it will last longer this way.

You can read more about the health benefits of nettles here:
https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/stinging-nettle.html

 

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